Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Rooms

I had a vision this morning.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy, or ultra spiritual and hokey. But it isn't the first time its happened to me, or the first time I've blogged about it. And this time...I almost didn't. Because I don't know...I don't think I can really give it the right words.

But I can't stop crying, and shaking, and laughing, and then back to the crying. So I want to share it. Because even if most of the blogging world (and by that I mean the few people who read this particular blog) thinks I've gone off the deep end...if the Lord shows you something, it's never just for you. Right? Eventually everything He reveals is for someone else...because He's just that good.

Okay. It started while I was praying, and mulling over a vision that a pastor shared during his message Sunday. I'll recap that one first, because I was praying about it, and about how it could apply to my life, and then the crying, shaking laughing thing started.

There is a person sitting in a room, on a bed. In front of them, on the floor, are broken shackles. The person isn't attached to the shackles anymore. They are looking down at them, recognizing them, but no longer bound by them. As the rest of the room comes into focus, you can see its a jail cell. The door of the cell is open. But the person is still sitting on the bed.

That was the vision my pastor friend had. And it spoke powerfully to many of us on Sunday. This morning, as I was praying, talking to the Lord about areas of my own life where I had been set free but wasn't walking in that freedom...I saw more of the vision, more of the picture. For the sake of easier writing, I will now refer to the person in the vision as myself. But...it is all of us. Read it like its you.

Suddenly, standing the doorway of the cell, is Jesus. "You are free of this, little one. See the blood on the shackles? Its my blood. I opened them with it. See the key in the door? That's the key of death. I went to hell and got it, and I brought it back to free you. Get up, little one. Leave this room behind you."

And I do. Because He paid dearly to free me, and with Him standing in front of me, how can I do anything but accept His offer?

As I walk forward, He begins to step backward, and, eyes on Him, I move out of that death cell.

We pass through the door and into another room. I stop, and take in the scenery. On these walls, I quickly realize, are a list of my failures, things I'm ashamed of. I don't want to look at it all. I certainly don't want Jesus to see it. In shame, in horror, I collapse on the bed in this room and cover my head. But...He sits beside me, and He speaks. "We aren't staying here. This room isn't a cell for you anymore. Look...look up, my child." 

When I open one eye, just a crack, and glance at the wall, I see the blood again. I don't see my guilt, and my shame. I glance at Jesus, and I see that He is also looking at the wall, but He doesn't see all of the sins recorded there. He sees His blood. And He is smiling as He speaks to me. "Let's keep moving."

And so we do. Each time we pass through a doorway, we pass into another room. But I'm getting used to what will happen, and its becoming less dramatic and horrifying. I see what is written on the walls, I know its meant to imprison me, to crush me, to keep me from being able to keep following Him to the next room...but now, eyes wide open, I get to see my Savior walk over to the wall, and apply His blood to it. White-washing it in red. And I start to get excited, almost, for Him to see more of my heart. "This room too, Lord! Clean this one out too, so I can leave it behind."

A long time passes this way. The process of cleaning out rooms and leaving them behind is hard. Its a lot of work, and it takes a while.

Then, we step into a room that is different from the others.

This one has furniture in it. A chair and a lamp in one corner. A coffee pot and mug on a table in another corner. The bed is there too, with a fluffy comforter and pillows on it. And I think to myself "yeeeeeeesssss. I made it out of the cells. Now I can rest."

Almost as soon as I sit down on the bed, I glance at the wall across from me, expecting to find lovely pictures hung there. But I don't. The words I see written there make me shrink back. I pull the blanket up to my chest and my knees into my stomach. 

"I don't understand," I say out loud. And I look over to see Jesus standing in the doorway, watching me with love in His eyes.

"You've had this room with you a long time, little one. Aren't you ready to let it go?"

I don't want to. I can feel the ache crushing me. I like this room. I can tell. It is part of who I am. Leaving it behind will mean losing a piece of myself. I shake my head at the Lord.

"It's too much, Jesus. We've already stripped so much of me. Anymore...and I won't be able to take it. This is far enough. I am not a prisoner anymore. I am happy here."

Time passes. I grow comfortable in my room. I even look back at the door I came through and praise the Lord for the freedom He's given me from the guilt and shame and addictions and lies. But...I don't look at the other door. Because that's where Jesus is standing. I crawl into my bed. I drink my coffee. I sit in my chair. I am at home here. This room has been with me too long to part with.

But then, something happens. Another person walks into my room. Someone who I just know, without it being explained to me, is also on a journey through rooms. At first, the person looks around, confused. I'm confused too. Why is this person passing through MY room on their journey? I don't speak, though. I just wait, sitting on my bed.

They look all around, blinking, taking in my comfortable existence. Then, they look at me.

"Why are you still here?" they ask. I shrug.
"Because its mine. It's part of me."
"But its a cell," they say, and point to the window. 

And for the first time, I see the bars on it. I lash out at the person."You don't know anything."

Nothing more is said to me as I lay down and pull the covers up to my chin. I shut my eyes and cover my ears with pillows.

But the person is talking. Not to me. To the other doorway, the one where Jesus was standing the last time I looked.

"Help her, Lord. Show her. She wants to be free, I know it. Cause her to remember all you have freed her from so far. Calm her fear of leaving this behind. Remind her that following You is worth more than anything else she would ever hold dear."

I can't take it anymore, and I start to yell, to drown out what the person is saying...and then my yell turns to a wail. I am gripping the blankets on my bed tightly, and I am curling myself around them. 

The weight shifts on the bed, and a strong, warm hand touches the top of my head. I don't move. I know Who it is, and I cannot make eye contact with Him.

But my heart is aching with thoughts. "I DO want to be free, Jesus. I DO want you more. But I'm afraid. I don't know how to leave this behind. Help me. Please, please help me."

He reaches down and scoops me up into His arms. I feel like my skin is being ripped away from my bones as He does it. I cry louder, in pain. 

He whispers. "Sssshhhh. I'm here. It's okay. I'm here." I manage to glance back at the bed, at the place I have been living comfortably, expecting to see chunks of myself there. Instead, I see words, written in blood. "Her healing from this has always hers. She is now choosing to walk in it."

I cry harder, and I bury my head on the chest of my Liberator. I am so ashamed that I have stayed so long in this place. I ask Him to forgive me. "I didn't know it was a cell. I didn't see it. I'm sorry. Forgive me, Lord. Help me let it go. I want to. But I need you to help me."

We stand that way for a long time, me crying, Jesus holding me. Finally the pain begins to become bearable, and I realzie that He isn't going to leave the room until I say I am ready.

"Okay, Jesus. You're here. I can do it. I can leave this behind. I want to be free of this place. If there is still more...I'm ready for it."

Only as we are about to leave the room do I remember the person that came in and called me out, pointing out my actual situation, and then praying for me until I was willing to see it for myself. I look back, wanting to thank them, but they are gone.

Jesus speaks. "I am always with you, little one. And sometimes, the way I am speaking to you is through others. Your journey is meant to intersect the journey of others. But...you have to keep moving in order for that to happen." 

As we leave my most recent jail cell behind, my Companion sets me down on my feet, and we resume our previous posture, where He is leading me, walking backward, and I am following Him.

More rooms, more freedom...it passes in a blur. I'm so excited to be moving again, and I keep praising the Lord for liberating me from all the things I thought I needed to hold on to.

And then I come into a room I don't recognize. With a chair in a corner, a coffee pot, a comfy bed. At first, I wonder if this is another room I am going to end up staying in for a while. But then...I see a person on the bed, looking at me in confusion. And I realize...I've entered someone else's journey. 

I'm so excited. "Get up!" I exclaim. "Don't stay here! It is a cell!"

They scowl at me. "Leave me alone. You don't know anything."

In sorrow, I beging to pray, and suddenly I realize exactly how the person who prayed for me must've felt. "Deliver them, Lord. Reveal the truth to them. Give them courage. Soothe their hearts in the process. So they can call others into more freedom too."

And then...then we move on, Jesus and I. 

Do you see it? Do you see the walk? Do you understand? The rooms...they are our lives. They are the journey with Him, they are the path. Sometimes we build new rooms, places to commemorate all God has done in us, a memorial of our freedom. But we don't stay there. We are on the move. We pass through each other's rooms sometimes. Sometimes we walk through the same rooms at the same times our brothers and sisters, working together to know Him more, to leave behind words of encouragement and prayers for anyone who may pass through later. Sometimes we are hurt again, and we crawl into bed and cover ourselves and sit...and Jesus is kind. He is patient. He is gentle. He will sit with us, and soothe our hurts, and hold us while we bleed out pain. 

But. If we stay too long...the pain becomes hardness, bitterness, un-forgiveness. And we can't feel Him at work anymore, because we are enveloped by this room and all it means.

He will send us people...people who have been here before, to remind us, to call us, to challenge us. And it will hurt. But, oh, He's faithful to use it all to guide us into more freedom.

To scoop us into His arms, even though it rips off chunks of flesh as He picks us up. 

He whispers to us, calming our fears with His Word. And then...when we are ready, He leads us forward again. 

We can decide to return to any room. Leave the light on so we can make it back if we want to, refuse to leave it behind altogether. But...why? Why do we do that? Is that sin, that hurt, that memory, that way we identify ourselves...is any of it REALLY worth it? If we are dragging remnants of our past rooms along behind us...it makes it so much harder to go new places. 

Sometimes others will point that out too. "Do you know that you're walking forward, but you've got a rope around your waist, tied to a bunch of junk from past rooms? Don't you think it would be easier to move without it? Also...you're kind of causing chaos with that junk. It's banging around everywhere you go. How can you not see that?"

Oh, brothers and sisters. Can you see it? I pray that this will begin to resonate with you the way it has settled so deeply into me that I cannot stop gasping for air. 

"Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me...I am the way, the truth, and the life..." John 14:1, 6

Friday, November 2, 2018

Stranglehold vs. Spirithold

Have you ever been strangled nearly to death?

Obviously, the majority of us haven't been. It happens a lot on Law and Order, and other crime dramas. But in real, every day, middle America, most of us don't meet up with a crazy killer who tries to choke the very breath out of us for whatever evil reason. 

It takes a long time for someone to die of strangulation, if the above mentioned crime dramas can be believed. And it must be truly terrifying to have hands gripping your neck hard enough to leave bruises, knowing that they plan to maintain that grip until blood vessels pop in your eyes and your lips turn blue and your nails can no longer dig into their hands and your legs don't have any oxygen to use for kicking...

Someone who is being strangled KNOWS they are dying, and that its only a matter of moments before they no longer have breath to get free. Time is of the essence. If you want to live, you have to fight back fast, and smart, and forcefully.

I have watched my daughter in her self-defense class, standing still while a grown, tall, strong man grabbed her around the neck with both hands, simulating strangulation, so that she could learn how to fight back. I've watched her get loose, time and again, and I always let out a sigh of relief, not even knowing I was holding my breath until she was free of the choke hold.

I've been thinking about this particularly morbid topic for a while now, mulling over something I wanted to share but unsure I had to right words to explain it. Finally, I decided just to go for it.

No, I have never been nearly strangled to death, physically. 

But I have absolutely been strangled. Spiritually, emotionally, I have experienced the soul sapping realization that I can't breathe, I can't get away, I am going to die.

As clearly as if it were physical, I have felt the choke hold.

Have you?

Maybe not in quite such a dramatic way as feeling certain you are going to die from the stranglehold. But you have felt it...you just don't know it yet.

So...answer a few questions for me, if you will.

Have you ever said the sentence "This is something I've always struggled with" ?

Have you ever known there was an unhealthy pattern in your life, but chosen not to make a change because it would be too hard?

Have you ever come face to face with truth, recognized it AS truth, and still continued in a pattern that was opposite of that truth?

If you answered yes to any of these questions...

I would argue that you have, in fact, experienced strangulation...as surely as if the Devil himself were standing in front of you, physically choking the life out of you.

Did you know that the word 'strangle' doesn't just mean 'to kill by squeezing the throat and preventing the intake of air' ? That's the first definition. But listen to this one...

"To prevent the continuance, growth, rise, or action...to suppress, to stifle..."

Have you ever said the sentence "I've always struggled with...?"(fill in the blank with whatever you've said. Don't lie and pretend you've never said it. You've at LEAST thought it.) Well then, your spirit, you soul, your very life has been stifled in that area.

Sound harsh? Extreme? Like I took it a little too far?

I have, in the very recent past, been in situations where I knew...I KNEW, something was not right. I knew I should say so. I had all the words inside me...but I pressed my lips together and said nothing.

Why did I do that? 

Because not long before that, there had been another situation where what I had said hadn't been well received. And as I pondered it, I said to myself, "I must've made a mistake. I don't want to make mistakes. So I should probably stop saying things that could possibly be taken the wrong way." The next time the opportunity came to open my mouth and speak truth, I reminded myself "You could make a wrong step here. Better to take no step at all." The next time..."That is too hard. Don't say that. Don't do that. It will be a mistake."

Until one day, a very short time ago, I was sitting at my kitchen table, my Bible open in front of me, wondering why I felt so isolated, out of breath, unsettled, weakened, and afraid.

"Lord...help me to see what is wrong." That was my prayer, and as I prayed it, I was rubbing my tired throat muscles. (Church the day before had left my singing muscles all tuckered out.)

It was as if the Lord shined a giant spotlight on my hands on my throat. And He said, "You are being strangled by a lie."

Spiritually, I was stifled. Emotionally, I was suppressed. 

Not to the point of death...but certainly to the point of suffering. 

Another thing to note about strangulation is that the victims are silent...because they can't get enough breath to scream. 

That was me. Silent. With a lie gripping my throat just enough so I couldn't make sound, but not enough that I went into the panic of fighting for my life. 

THIS is where our sly adversary, the evil one lurking in the darkness, that vile deceiver...this is where he gets his wins.

Not from actually killing us. Not from walking up to us and announcing he is after our very lives. NO. He gains a victory in our lives every time we believe a lie.

As surely as if he had his hand around our throats, pressing down just enough to make us work harder, or stop working altogether, or adjust how we live, or concede in an area we wouldn't have before, or shy away from something hard, or accept something we wouldn't have tolerated before.

He is the most subtle of stranglers. So much so that all of us, ALL OF US, answered that first question "have you ever been strangled?" with a resounding "NO."

I'm going to pause right now and pray. Because my hands are trembling. And that means the Spirit is speaking.

"Oh kind, faithful, merciful Father...shine light where You want to move within us. Show us the enemy at work. Reveal him to us. Cause us to yearn for intimacy with You...and let that desire outweigh the hard things we have to look at within ourselves."

Our God wants us breathing, living, and testifying of that life. And He wants it for us in abundance. No stifling or suppressing. 

The enemy of God, and of our souls, wants the opposite. And he's crafty in how he assaults us.

"The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come that you might have life, and life abundant." John 10:10

The devil comes to kill you. But not just kill you. Destroy you. Not just destroy you. STEAL from you. 

Killing is very overt. Destroying is too. But stealing...its subtle. It's quiet. It's covert. It can go unnoticed for a long time.

And one small theft at a time, the enemy WILL DESTROY you. He will kill that abundant life that Jesus came to give you.

Until the day you are sitting at your table, massaging your throat, asking God why its so hard to get a good, deep, spiritual breath, and He tells you "You're letting yourself be strangled by a lie."

How I pray that I don't ever again have to arrive at painful, spiritual suppression before I see the lies for what they are: theft of my abundant life.

Do you know the truth? You can. It's His Word. And its available to you. If you know it...apply it to your current set of life issues.

You know how to get out of the choke hold, as surely as if you were in self-defense class with my daughter. 

ASK HIM, the One who came to give you abundant life, to show you the lies, and remind you of the truth that prove them as lies. And then...renounce them.

I did it out loud, almost wailing in my horror that I had allowed it to go so far, had been suffocated and stifled so completely that I was physically gasping for air.

"Oh God, forgive me for believing a lie and rejecting You, the Truth. (John 14:6) I declare, aloud so my enemy can hear it, that I see that lie, and I will no longer be strangled by it. I have authority over it because the Spirit of the Living God, who raised Christ Jesus from the dead, is IN ME. (Romans 8:11) And all authority in heaven and on earth is HIS. (Matthew 28:18) I am free from this choke hold in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen."

Two things: First, I used the TRUTH to fight the lies. You have to know it. You have to know it FOR YOURSELF, not just because someone else told it to you. Otherwise the devil doesn't even have to try and kill you or destroy you. He's already strangling you with the lie that its okay not to read the Word daily and let it sink into your very soul. Second, you have to continually identify the lie as it continues to ping around inside you, and declare truth to it over and over.

Like a blocked artery, once cleared, has to be maintained by correct diet and exercise, so too a spiritual bondage (which is what a lie, believed and accepted, becomes. Because the father of all lies is the devil. (John 8:44) If you believe a lie...you are in bondage to it. Its simple. And its absolutely possible to be free) must be broken, renounced, and then actively walked out of. 

I won't try and list all the lies we believe that become bondage in our lives. That would take too long. But I pray that by now the Spirit of God has already begun to point them out in your life. 

Have you ever been strangled? Yes.
Will you continue to stand there and let it happen?
Or will you fight back?

That first deep breath of free, SPIRIT saturated air...oh, it feels so good. How could we have ever thought we were breathing before?

Be brave enough to fight back and get loose from the grip of the lies...and then gulp in that freedom, for it is your very LIFE.

Believe the TRUTH, and let Him set you free.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

English Lesson

Confession (that will not come as a shock to anyone): I love English, and am a fan of strong words choices.

As a writer, nothing makes me happier than reading, or hearing, words that perfectly paint the intended picture in my mind.

I frown upon (and by that I mean, rant excessively about) weak words, or fake words, or words that don't give nearly enough information.

For example, my kids say "that's lit," all the time. I hate it. 

"What does that even mean?" I always question.
"You know...awesome...cool," they respond.
"That still doesn't really tell me anything."
"Mom...the song is just lit. That is all. It's lit."

Irritation abounds. 

Is the tune catchy? Does it have a beat that is fun to drum along to? Are the lyrics deep and exciting? Sad? Funny?

WHAT DOES LIT MEAN?

I frequently require them to give me at least one additional adjective to describe whatever is currently being discussed, and I am almost always referred to as the"grammar police" for it.

But words are supposed to resonate. We should understand the intention, or situation, or required response, or desired feedback, simply by listening to the words being said.

When my husband responds "interesting" to anything I say...I want to pull out my hair. "Funny interesting? Boring interesting? I'm-not-really-listening interesting? Which is it?" 

Perhaps my particular bent toward flowery words is why I love reading the Psalms so much. The verses paint vivid pictures in my mind's eye, and I so appreciate that. I am never at a loss for how I am supposed to respond, emotionally and sometimes even physically, to a particular passage. The direction is found within the words themselves. 

There are, however, passages that cause a struggle sometimes.

"Be still and know..."
"Be patient..."
"Be strong and courageous..."

If I was grading a paper which included the words, I would have nothing bad to say. Ask any of my former writing students. The problem I have is with the verb BE.

I don't like state-of-being verbs. I like ACTION verbs. 

Colorful images fill my mind if I say "Grasp patience" or "Practice strength and courage" or "Settle into stillness and knowledge." 

I can get behind those verbs. They require an action from me, and I am quick to respond accordingly. 

But...BE STILL. What does that mean? Sit still? Stand still? Lay still? Remain still? Return to stillness? WHAT AM I DOING?

I shared this particular dissatisfaction with the Lord this morning, during my Bible reading time. (Because what Author doesn't like to have their word choices critiqued?)(eye roll(at myself)) 

"I don't like this verse, Lord. Wait on You? What am I supposed to do? I clearly AM waiting...because I'm not doing anything. But I don't like it. It doesn't give me enough direction. I'll sit here, still and waiting, as long as you tell me to...but I need something to do while I'm here. I need more words..."

I'm giggling about it right now, because as I sat...I'm pretty sure an angel came into my sitting room. Why do I think that?

Because I had my worship songs play-list playing, on shuffle, (and it's over 11 hours long) and one song after another...the music, the words, spoke directly to what I had just been discussing with the Lord. I have basically decided an angel was choosing the music for me. Not every song in that 11.75 hours of music would be a direct answer to my prayer...but 5 songs in a row were. And I cried, and I laughed, and I was still before Him, and He spoke sweetly.

I don't think He minds that I need strong word pictures. He created me the way I am, after all. I don't even think He minds when I wish for a stronger synonym for a particular word. 

Because He always drops the synonyms into my spirit exactly when I need them.

"You remain IN me. And I am all things. I am Healing and Hope and Strength and Mercy and Knowledge and Faithfulness and Courage and Power and Understanding and Wisdom and Peace and Kindness and Rest...All the words you could ever need, you can find them IN ME."

And so, to wrap up this little English lesson...

I am CHOOSING to obey Him. Because that is an action word. And it actually takes quite a bit of exertion on my part. The grasping-with-my-nails, eyes-shut-tight, energy-depleting CHOOSING to be still, to wait, to just BE.

But y'all...I find Him there. I find all the things I wish He would direct me to do and seek and learn and become...I find them all IN HIM. 

And I find rest in the process. Which is good, because its exhausting to set aside all the synonyms I would choose for a word...

You want to know one more word with such depth of meaning that it could be endlessly expounded upon, but it doesn't need that? A word that paints so many pictures inside me that it really is the whole story, all wrapped up in 5 letters?

J.E.S.U.S.

A whisper. A wail. A shout. A laugh. A battle cry. A dying breath.
 
Every fear, hope, praise, request...every heartbeat. Right there within His name.

Isn't He an exceptional Author? All His heart toward us, painted across that one syllable word, echoing endlessly across our lives.

And He says "English class dismissed."