To keep short accounts helps me to live with joy throughout what would’ve been a haunted day.
What that means (keep short accounts) is to settle issues quickly. In the accounting world, if I spend a little time each week working on reconciling my books, it’s an easy, simple task. However if I wait two months to do so, it becomes a hairdo of a mess. It’s the same in relationships.
Case in point:
Recently hubby snored like crazy, constantly interrupting my sleep. So when he woke, I barked at him, pretty darned angry.
A half hour later, I felt bad about my barking and sent him an apology text.
He received my apology, then apologized for the snoring. And harmony was restored, our relational account balanced.
I can’t tell you how relieved that made me feel, to clear the air before the day commenced. I could’ve let the anger fester, or let him live under my barking. But something down deep niggled me, this haunting that I didn’t want to spend my day with anger between us.
God’s quiet words to me of late are these: Choose people. I’ve let that little sentence frame the way I see others, train me to responsive to their needs, and think of people first before I consider my own needs. It’s made for some humbling, sweet moments of late.
Choosing people means choosing to apologize when we’re crabby. It means valuing the heart of the other, humbling ourselves enough to prove that value, and longing for sweet harmony when discord reigns. And it means keeping short accounts with those we love the most (our families and closest friends).
I’ve spent the past several years worrying about making money at this writing ministry. And to be quite honest, I’ve let the fluctuations of that reality affect my mood and worth. You may have even seen traces of that here on my blog. I won’t reiterate all that because I believe God is doing something new in my heart.
Confession: I’ve been living for the wrong kingdom, measuring myself by the world’s standards. I have given in to believing the lie that money = worth.
By Jesus’ strength, I’m driving a stake in the ground. I’m no longer living for the world’s economy. I am choosing, deliberately, NOT to fret about provision. I will not, by God’s grace, give in to worry about this because it impoverishes the mission God has given me on this earth:
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, and publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” (Isaiah 52:7, ESV).
My job is to publish; His is to take those words and bring fruit, however that fruit may look.
My job is to speak God’s greatness. His job is to grow His kingdom.
My job is to look at heaven for reward (letting go of needing it so desperately here). His job is to provide that reward however He sovereignly sees fit.
My job is to love Him and love others. His job is to settle my worth once and for all–not attached to what I create or do or make or succeed in–but wholly determined by His affection toward me.
My job is to let go of needing certain outcomes to feel valid. His job is to validate me way down deep in my soul.
My job is to be faithful. That’s His job too.
I’d appreciate prayer as I actively choose to give up worry about finances and worth and success. Remind me if you see me getting weird or caught up in this publishing business. Remind me that it’s about Jesus’ kingdom expanding, His glory, not mine. Remind me that this world is so so so swift in its passing, and that what will last is what is done for God’s kingdom.
I place a stake in the ground. I’m living for a better story, choosing trust over fear. I pray the same for you.
14 Comments 21 May 2013
I drove my high school kids to school recently. As we left our development, we noticed my friend who teaches at the school, pull out behind us. A few days prior, I worked on invitations for a party here at my house, and I’d forgotten to invite her, though she is a dear, dear person to me. As I drove home, I wondered if my heart was too small for all the relationships God has blessed me with. Not in a Grinch-like way, but simply because I don’t feel like I give people enough, or some fade from memory.
When one of my kids shared about a friend whose parents were walking through something devastating, I wanted to rescue. I offered to spend time with the friend, though I’m not sure that will ever happen. (Why would a high school student want to talk to me, a stranger?) As I thought about it further, I realized how little margin I had to counsel someone.
In times like these, I wish I had unlimited time and heart space to hug everyone I know, walk through every pain alongside. But I can’t. I’m not God. I can’t be everywhere at once. And if I spend-spend-spend my energy on everyone, those closest to me suffer.
There will always be tension on this earth, and trying to decide who gets what part of me is one of those tensions. I’m thankful for Jesus’ rough model. He loved the crowds, spoke to them, instructing many. But he had a smaller subset He poured into, maybe fifty or so. He reserved His more intimate time with twelve, then His deepest time with three. And of course, His time with God (the One) trumped all else.
I’ve heard that we only have capacity to be acquaintances with 150 people. In this crazy Facebook age, that number has exponentialed, but our capacity remains the same. No wonder we’re harried. No wonder I fret over forgetting a friend when I’m inviting folks to an event. No wonder we feel stretched beyond measure.
All I can do in this conundrum is refocus on Jesus’ method: choose the One. When I’m walking closely with God, my ear bent to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, I know exactly who to choose, when to retreat, and when to spend myself. Instead of worrying about how to order my relationships, categorizing them (are they one of the twelve? The crowd?), and wondering if I have enough to give, I simply await my instructions for this day, with the people God has placed right smack dab in front of me.
Recently? My new friend who I met at a conference this year are having breakfast. I am also choosing my friend Kimberly who prays-prays-prays like a wonderwoman. We’re meeting at the park to pray. And it’s my kids who seem to need me far more than when they were toddlers. Teens can be entirely needy! And it’s my husband who worries about my somber mood of late and cheers me up. It’s those folks. And that’s enough. My heart can enlarge for them.
I can choose the One, and that One will order my relationships.
I watched the movie 42 last week, and I cried several times. God used the movie to speak to me profoundly, and in some ways I’m not even sure I can put words to paper about the change in me.
You see, God has shown me something way down deep. I ache and writhe when I see injustice. I simply cannot handle it. It’s even worse when I see the church perpetrating it. When I see injustice where a powerful person perpetrates against the weak, I’m back in the schoolyard, wanting to duke it out with the bully.
Problem is, when you duke it out, you get hurt.
Which brings me to 42′s message. Jackie Robinson learned to have dignity. He might not have even asked to be a hero, but by stepping out onto the field, he essentially stood up to millions of bullies, daring for the right to be seen as a human being. And as he did so, he plowed ground for racial reconciliation, a kinder nation, and civil rights.
I believe God is asking me to (in my own small space here) to stand up, to simply walk out onto the field, and be willing to take the flak for those who often don’t have a voice: sexual abuse victims. I have been maligned in doing so (on a small scale). And it has hurt. I sense it will get worse.
Why? Because Satan loves sexual abuse. And he loves the pain and bewilderment that comes from it. He loves the chaos and shame and dirtiness victims feel. He loves to trap perpetrators in their sin, helping them believe the lie that they will always be perpetrators. So those who stand up for victims will be targets.
On one hand, this scares me. On another, it emboldens me.
So I ask for your prayers. I am not a brave person by nature. I prefer calm to chaos, harmony to discord. But I believe God has called me to put on my uniform and step out onto the field, come what may, whatever that might look like. I do it because He has so beautifully restored me, rescuing me from Satan’s diabolical plans, and I want to serve (in a small way) as a midwife for other victims who need that restoration. I want to dignify them, give them a voice, or even write the words they feel but cannot say quite yet.
I may not punch a bully with my fists (I’m too weak), but I can defend those who have been violated simply by walking out onto the field and being a representation of redemption–living proof that you can have an incredibly joyful life even after awful devastation.
42 Comments 19 May 2013
I get a lot of emails asking perplexing, painful, amazing questions. Today I’m going to attempt to answer (if there is such a thing as a “correct” answer) a question I’ve wrestled with for years. See if you relate to Amy’s dilemma.
Thank you for your blog. I am new reader but have enjoyed reading what you share.
It is quite unlike me to send an email like this. But here it goes . . . as I know you have heard many times I resonate with much you have shared. I am not healed but am healing. I think I will always be. I have a childhood of abuse. I survived by dissociating and now I have to untangle that dissociation. I hope that makes sense. I have a good solid counselor who I am grateful for.
I know Jesus as my savior. I do not doubt my salvation. I believe his word to be true. But I am in a battle. It is a battle that is draining any hope I have. I know you have mentioned in your writing that you do not understand why God allowed your abuse to occur. With my father and step mother I had to pretend that they were good parents – I had to attend to their needs – all the while my father was abusing me. If I did not “pretend” they were good parents then I was not being a good Christian – then I had no value. My value came in being submissive to what they told me to feel, think, do, and put up with.
I know the theological answers given – free will of man, for His glory, make us more like Him, and He is/was with you in the pain. I struggle though because if I am honest it all feels like rationalization for God being God. And I can’t do it. In church, we sing songs of His protection – of us being safe in His arms – and I struggle. I have heard people say things like “if you had not gone through trauma you would see things differently.” But the truth is I did go through trauma – that is my reality.
I want to trust him. I want to surrender to Him in the moments of my life. But I can’t. I am afraid. I cannot make simple answers out for things and I cannot pretend He is with me. I feel less than those who can put everything into neat answers and I feel anger. I never want to give simple answers – to say things like “when you are more spiritually mature you will understand this.” I know how it has hurt me and I do not want to do it to anyone else. So this has rambled much more than I intended – I’m sorry.
I really wanted to know how you are able to hold those two realities in your hands – that you do not understand why your abuse was allowed and that God is good. If you have time to answer, thank you. But if you do not, I understand.
I so resonate with your questions, and I applaud you for asking them and not being satisfied with cliche and pat answers. I wish I had some perfect i satisfactory conclusion to offer you, but I can say this: you are not alone in what you ask.
Many people struggle with looking over the evil in the world, particularly the evil perpetrated against them, and wonder how a good God would let that happen. Looking back on my own childhood, particularly the sexual abuse by the neighborhood boys, I can’t fathom why God wouldn’t have stepped in. Is He weak? Did He not care? Was I expendable?
I consider my own children. If I knew someone was hurting them, rest assured I would DO SOMETHING to protect them. So if I’m a relatively good parent and I would rescue, why would God the perfect Parent choose NOT to rescue me?
Most people feel it sacrilegious to voice such questions, as if God would be angry for us putting words to what we feel way deep inside. The truth is, He knows our questions and quandaries already. So why not share them with Him? I let out many of my questions in the memoir, Thin Places.
When I get to the place of despair in these questions, I remember that Jesus is God’s beauty in the flesh, that He took on those awful sexual sins perpetrated against me on the cross. He bore every. single. sin. It was wholly unfair, particularly since He did not in any way deserve to receive those sins. When the questions holler louder than God’s goodness, I try to picture Jesus on that cross, bearing the weight for my sin, your sin, everyone’s sin.
This is a fallen world with fallen people messing with each other, inflicting awful pain. And until I realize that I am part of the problem, that I am a sinner who also perpetrates, it’s easy for me to point to the other sin calling it uncalled for, yet glossing over my own.
I can say that God used the things in my life I’d rather not have happened to create deep empathy in me. Sometimes people ask me how they can be close to Jesus like I am (though honestly, I feel small in this area). The answer is that He and I have walked through so much together, and He has healed me of multitudes of wounds. In that place of deprivation, I’ve become a more loving, forgiving person.
I honestly wonder if I would’ve reached for Him had I not experienced what I did. Would I have longed for a daddy had my earthly father not died? Would I have an insatiable need for feeling clean had I not been violated? I don’t know. I’m pretty stubborn, and I love control.
To be honest, there are many times I would rather that God would let me be, stop sending trials my way, and let me experience abundant circumstances. But then I look back on my Christian life and see where I grew the most. It was through the awful trials. I wrote a book about that, Everything, where I talk frankly about our family’s traumatic time in France and how we survived in the aftermath.
I also have to remember that this world we live in is fading away. God does see the pain I’ve walked through. He will reward me for faithful service despite my limitations. He will bring complete and total healing on the other side. I don’t live for the wholeness now 0r even demand it. I wait on tiptoes for the wholeness that will come.
But you’re right. Saying, “I serve a good God,” is difficult when you see the abuse of the past. I’m sorry you walked through that. And I don’t know why you had to walk through all that. It is hard to trust God in that instance because He can seem arbitrary and capricious.
Perhaps that’s what trust and faith are all about–where we acknowledge our perplexities, let them stay in tension, and choose to risk in faith anyway. I know for me, I’m happiest when I don’t stay in that place of figuring things out, but when I lift my hands in surrender and honestly tell God, “I don’t get it.” A settled peace comes over me in that moment, something I can’t explain, where I realize again that He is God and I am not. He is sovereign and I am small.
I don’t expect this answer to clear up your wrestling, not by any shot, but I do hope you see that you’re not alone in wondering these things, and your questions don’t nullify your faith. You are normal. You are human. And you’ve been injured. May our great big God continue to heal you, help you to trust, and experience His goodness even right now.
Sometimes my life is so full of people, I don’t have time to run back to my computer and share my report. Such has been my life of late. Recently I spent a day with a group of women for a women’s retreat, but how it came about surprises me still. A woman who wasn’t a writer found out I’d be speaking about writing and attended the publishing seminar, determined to ask me if I’d speak at her women’s retreat. Imagine her surprise when I sat directly across from her for lunch! I love how God threads people together like that.
So I spoke about freedom, about stories from my past, about God’s great reaching down to pluck me from the pain. And ladies resonated, praise Jesus. One so much so that she wanted to leave the retreat. (Insert ironic laughter here).
My story hit far too close to home. She later told me she felt like I shared her story as I spoke, and it wasn’t one she’d been able to own or heal from. Her words hushed as she talked, as if she’d get slapped if she raised her voice.
Darting eyes. Shame. Worry. Fear. I listened as she haunted out her story. I grew indignant at the injustices she’d faced, felt the holy anger of God.
An hour later, I saw a shy smile, an engagement that hadn’t been there before, a sly hint of freedom. I have hope that she will be wildly set free from the haunting. And I feel so small and privileged to be the impetus for God doing freedom work.
The day stretched long before me, no time for myself, but a lot of interaction. I fed off other people’s stories, digesting them, listening. When I spoke, I expended myself in a great exhale, so that by the time I got home, the kids could see I was crazy-tired.
I spoke again a few days later, expending myself, encouraging, wooing. The audience felt asleep, lethargic, as if I had to become a hyperactive cheerleader to open their eyes and hearts. Thankfully, I met a dear speaker, older than me, who acted as a friend, helping me with my table and giving me a heaping dose of encouragement. Words like, “That was exactly the message our girls needed to hear,” and “I applaud you for all the books you’ve written.” I love it that God knows our limitations and needs. He saw my fatigue, my weariness in speaking to a tired group, and sent me my own cheerleader.
Which was just what I needed knowing what I would face later.
A letter in the mail, not from a person per se, but a publishing entity, saying my less-than-a-year-ago book would soon be out of print. I could purchase the rest of the doomed copies at a discount and save them from the furnace. (Yes, it’s called remaindering. Any books not sold end up in a fiery, hellish furnace). I moped the day, letting my worth be determined by words like failure, remaindering, horrible sales, and fiery furnace define me.
That evening, I didn’t share my woes with the eager-eyed writers at our monthly writers group. I put on my cheerleader hat again and taught about publishing our work, the process of it all. And I offered encouragement, but I left completely spent again, discouraged from the day. I came home to an email about how I charged too much to speak, which stung in its own way.
My children and husband cheered in their own sweet way, and then an email touched me, written by someone I’d never met. “Your words propel me forward through hope, but more, they make me feel. I need to feel. I want that I will some day have your quiet contentment and wholeness. That the rest of my life is not a shadow of shattered innocence, but a frame of constant becoming. Most days it seems impossible, but I hold on. Thank you, and thanks be to God.”
So maybe all that hard work isn’t for naught. Maybe all these spoken and written words sent out to the world mean something. Maybe it’s not a waste of my energy and time. Maybe just maybe God keeps me on this path as a word girl so others won’t feel alone, or that they’ll simply feel this life. Oh I hope so.
It’s in these times of exhale and fatigue that I’m grateful that Jesus is the living water, and I’m just an empty, sometimes cracked cup, upstretched, waiting for His filling. That’s my prayer for me as I spend myself further, and it’s certainly my prayer for you.
Have you ever felt so spent and dry that you nearly wilted? How did Jesus fill you back up again?14 Comments 15 May 2013
In the aftermath of speaking, I often get sick. This happens a lot. I expend quite a bit of me when I speak, pouring heart and soul into my messages, then praying for people afterward. So I spent Monday resting.
One of the things I watched was a documentary about stress. I learned that stress grows the lower your economic status is. I saw how it caused the casing of our DNA to deteriorate.
Trauma, especially of the childhood variety, accounted for many stress-related diseases in adulthood. One study showed how stress even caused problems in people if their mothers were under stress during pregnancy. By about three-quarters of the way through the documentary, I wanted to shout, “Well, it’s not fair! What if you’re poor? Or your mom had stress? Or you experienced trauma? Were you doomed to stress related illness?”
But then, alas, some light. They learned, too, that the protective covering over our DNA, which naturally ebbs when we age but deteriorates rapidly from stress, can actually be rebuilt.
The missing ingredient? Community.
If people were on a lower economic strata, but had great relationships, the damage from stress was reversed. If folks who had trauma in their past, but connected with others, they emerged healthy.
What an amazing proof of God’s truth! People wound us. But people also heal us. And by withdrawing from others in a mode of self-protection, we cut off the very means to make us better.
I wrote an entire book about this called The Wall Around Your Heart. It’s up on Amazon now (yay!) and will release in October. I wrote it for those of you who are so burned by others that you’ve walled off your heart. It’s safe, but boy is it lonely. And bitter. Don’t settle for a detached life.
One of the things I learned from Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point is that I am a connector. (You can check and see if you are one by clicking here). I gain great satisfaction in connecting people together, and I love to see how God beautifully weaves our stories together.Recently I experienced this on quite a sweeping scale.
It started with a tweet from someone I didn’t recognize. He said he had a ten-minute slot for me to interview worship leader, Kari Jobe, for my blog. She had a song featured in a movie about sex trafficking in India.
His next tweet helped clarify who he was. “P.S. It’s Michael, the French press guy from D-Now.” Ah yes! Years ago as a college student, he had led my son’s group at our house during a discipleship weekend. We introduced him to the French press, and he found out then I was a published writer. Must’ve been five years since I’d last heard from him. Turns out, he’s married since then and landed a job at a prestigious PR firm.
Knowing my daughter and her friends adored Kari Jobe, and my passion for helping sex trafficked victims, I said yes. I listened to Kari’s song, watched the trailer for the upcoming movie, and marveled again at how God wove things together. The movie, set in India, captured my heart, as did my pre-boyfriend Patrick weeks before he left for Calcutta, India for three months. That country marks the beginning of our relationship, a significant turning point in Patrick’s walk with Jesus, and our collective hearts for the people of this world who suffer.
I called Sophie and told her I’d be chatting on the phone with Kari, and asked her if she had any questions she’d like me to ask. She did.
So when I talked to Kari, I let her know about all our little connections, that my daughter saw her at Passion that year, that my husband had been in India a significant amount of time, and that I sometimes wrote books and blogs about recovering from sexual abuse.
She told me about her heart for victims, how she learned about the problem through Christine Caine who started a ministry, the A21 Campaign. I told her about the book I wrote last month, a book that poured out of me like water, to help victims of sexual abuse. She offered to send the book to Christine—a winsome surprise.
I asked her Sophie’s questions and we said our goodbyes. But as I hung up the phone, I realized afresh just how connected we all, how God saw fit to orchestrate this ten-minute phone call through a college leader, a trip to India, a heart to heal abuse victims and a famous worship leader.
When I fret about getting older and see those crazy wrinkles around my eyes, I realize that being a connector is what brings the deepest joy.
I will grow wiser, but I’ll also grow more connected. I’ll have more opportunities to introduce folks to each other. I’ll have more stories like this one, woven from the fabric of acquaintances and circumstances.
I imagine in heaven we’ll see ten thousand stories like this, how God seamed random encounters into holy coincidences, all for the sake of His plan for folks.14 Comments 10 May 2013
I’m not sure why, but I’ve been on the brink of tears lately—most likely because of my travel schedule and how much I feel I’m giving out. Recently I spent time with a church in the heart of the nation, an avowed farming community whose spring fields boasted nubile green wheat shoots.
Two women picked me up and drove me to the venue—a two-hour drive—and drove me back to the airport. I had a chance to mine their stories, offer pieces of my own. And in between airport taxis, I shared twice at the church, again amazed that when I tell my story, others share their own. This is humbling.
These sweet farmwomen are matter of fact, put together, connected to the earth and their families in a way I admire and long for. And yet, one by one, they whispered stories to me, of abuse, of pain, of marriage hardship. I prayed for one woman, tears spilling from both of us. Sometimes life is downright painful, and the only thing we can do is share our stories, find common ground, and pray through the pain.
I didn’t take a break upon coming home. I was supposed to, but disobeyed myself, which left me feeling overly spent, fully overwhelmed, and needy. I worked a fourteen-hour day and felt l like a zombie in the aftermath. And yet, God—who sees even the smallest things in my life—blessed me with twin kindness bombs right when the tears threatened to overtake.
From my daughter Sophie: Dear Mom, have a great day! Love, Sophie.
And then four minutes later from Julia: Have a good day, mom.
Their words were little kindness bombs dropped into my stressful, sad, teary day.
When I get like this, overwhelmed by duties and people’s needs, I worry about how I’m doing as a mom and wife. I know my family needs me to choose them, but they are often the ones I choose next to last (with me being the very last). We can be overrun by people so much so that the significant relationships in our lives suffer.
So I pray.
Jesus, I pray for me right now—me who feels unfilled and empty (and I echo this prayer for those reading this who feel the exact same way). When we get this way, we see people as a drain, not an opportunity. Help us reshift our hearts by first receiving Your fountain of living water. We are parched and needy, and You are the only One who can fill us to overflowing so Your love will pour into our family’s lives. We thank You in advance for choosing to fill us to the brim and more. Please, Jesus, help us to engage today, but not until we’ve engaged You and received Your strength. Amen.
Question: When have you been in dire need of a kindness bomb?10 Comments 08 May 2013
In this attempt to simplify and hone, God has been very clear with me. He has practically hollered His message to me through several different people in my life in very specific ways. It’s time to slow down. To rest. To pray. To think. To recapture the energy I need for the next season of harvest in my life.
It reminds me of mile 11 at the half marathon I ran (er limped?) last December. Although I swore I would NOT walk, by mile eleven, my back started hurting really bad. I hadn’t anticipated that. I expected legs, knees, lungs, blisters. I had never run eleven miles in my life, so getting there, I had no frame of reference or warning that my back would scream at me.
So I walked. (sigh). Gave my ol’ back a break. But then I thought, I’d like to run the end of this race. I’d like to finish strong. And that’s when a magical song appeared on my ipod. It’s not a Jesus song, but a popular one with a raucous beat. And when it came on, off I ran. I actually pepped up, smiled, and ran like a fool. Don’t judge me, but this is the song.
I sprinted to the finish line.
I just needed a song.
So while I limp through this aspect of my life, disappointed yet hopeful, beaten down but not destroyed, small yet with a big God residing within, frail and needy, I am asking God for a song at mile 11.
And while I do that, I will ask for one for you too.
Dear Jesus, we’re limping. We’re tired. Life has beaten us down. The road feels way too long and our wherewithal is gone. We need a song, something to ignite us toward action. Something to inspire, to rouse, to regenerate. Would You be so kind as to give each and every one of us a song even this week? We need a holy beat, a melody that sparks, a hope to run to. Amen.
© 2013 Mary DeMuth.
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