Sin and Bad Dreams

I just woke up from a horrible dream. In the dream I was sleeping around on my husband. And then someone walked in on me, right after the fact, and they could tell what I had been doing and the look of shock and disappointment on their face was horrible. And I started making up all these lies and excuses, but I could tell they didn’t believe me. And they left and I sat there knowing that I would never have peace until I confessed what I had done, but how could I confess? My husband would divorce me and then it would ruin our kids’ lives. And I knew I would just have to keep this horrible secret forever and I was just covered in despair. 

And then I woke up. And I had to go through some self talk to calm myself down. Have you slept around on your husband? No. No I haven’t. Are you planning on sleeping around on your husband. No. No I’m not. Ok. Then this is not your worry. You don’t have to carry these feelings around. Let it go. It was just a bad dream. 

But then honesty had to kick in. Are you capable of sinning like this? Umm. Yes. My heart is just as sinful as the next person. There have been rough times in our marriage that, if I had been faced with the exact right temptations, I might have succumbed. But, God’s grace has kept me. 

And then I just had to sit there and cling to that. God’s grace has kept me. 

From so many things. 

And then I had to think about the nature of our God. He is God who can unravel any mess that we make. What if I had been in that situation? What if I had confessed such a sin? Maybe my husband would have divorced me. Maybe not. But I do know that God would have been faithful to work in my heart. To bring me to a place of repentance. To take me through a path of healing. To help me deal with the sin issues in my heart that led me in that direction. And throughout all of it, he would have stayed with me. 

The tragedy of the dream, I think, is the pain and suffering I would have caused my husband and children. Why do our sins always end up hurting other people? And knowing that God could bring me to a place of repentance and healing, but what about those wounds I would have inflicted on my family? I would have no power to heal those wounds. Only God could. And I would have no power to force my loved ones to turn to God for that healing. It would be completely up to them what they did with those wounds. 

It brings home how completely dependent we are on God’s mercy and grace. We truly live in a sinful dark world. And we are capable of the worst sins imaginable. And it is truly a miracle that Jesus would be willing to come down and offer a solution to our sin problem. He died on the cross and took the punishment for all this sin that we humans so easily commit. If we turn to him and repent of our sins, he will forgive us, and cover us with his own goodness. When God looks at me, he no longer sees sinful Esther. He sees Esther covered in Jesus’ goodness. Clean. Acceptable. And when I submit myself to him, say Your will be done in my life, not my own will, he is faithful to lead me down a path of goodness. 

And yes, while I live on this earth, I will still deal with sin issues that pop up here and there. We are on a path of change, while God works in our hearts to slowly make us more like him. But my God is big enough to unravel every mess I make. And I cling to his grace and mercy. 

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Updates and Manga

I wanted to give you all an update on our meeting that we had last week concerning our foster child. The meeting went really well and we were able to come up with a timeline that is long enough to enable a slow, hopefully smooth transition, with a lot of safety measures in place. It was definitely an answer to prayer and I am feeling a lot more peace about the upcoming changes. 

The meeting was Friday afternoon. On Saturday morning my husband went running with me (a sign of true husbandly devotion) and then I came home and ended up doing almost nothing, all day long. I was wiped out from stress. But I have felt God’s mercy on me as the last couple days have been worry-free, slow, and peaceful. 

In other news, this past weekend, I started reading one of my daughter’s manga. Basically, comic books. It’s a romance manga that my daughter really liked, and we used to tease her about it. Then for her birthday, we bought the anime series and all watched it with her, and it was so wonderfully sweet and fluffy that me and all the little kids fell in love with it. In a culture where “romance” is often just another word for pornography, it was very nice to see a version of romance where handholding is about the raciest thing that happens. 

My kids have been laughing about me reading this, but I have to explain a bit why this has grabbed my fancy. I have always had a fascination with how people interact with each other. The role of power and submission, friendship, protectors, the heroes, the villains. How it all plays out. And I have so many questions. Why are we drawn to these kinds of characters? Why do we think that this kind of interaction is “sweet”. It was really interesting to see drawn out pictures, cartoons,  of all these tropes that appear in every kind of literature I’ve ever read. My interest is not so much in the story, but rather the stereotypes that they are representing and trying to understand why these stereotypes show up so often. 

I’ve been thinking a lot, too, about the nature of Jesus. Our perceptions of him. How we interact with him. The connections between the literature we love, and our inner desires for a relationship with God. Because I do see a lot of connections. I look at this cartoon in this silly manga, and I find something inside of me is stirred, and I have to ask, what inner longings do I have that draw me to this caricature? And I find myself setting the book down and asking God about it. These stories that captivate us only do so because they are a shadow of what God originally designed for us in the Garden of Eden. So what is this desire and how do I find the real version of it in God? And it’s actually been a rather nice time of talking to God. I don’t feel like I’m getting all the answers, but I really feel like he is listening to me. 

The verses that he has put in my mind this morning are ones like Jeremiah 29:13:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

And Matthew 7:7:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

I just feel like God is saying, No you don’t understand it fully right now, but keep asking questions. Keep looking. You’re looking for me, and I want to be found. 

And I feel encouraged. God can be found in the craziest places, even in an anime cartoon. 

WARNING

I have been feeling nervous lately about having a blog. People are actually reading it. That makes me nervous. I know myself too well. I am so human. I do not have my life together. I am inconsistent. I lose my temper. I’m irritable. I have big bouts of laziness. I blow it with my kids every day. Our family lives at full throttle, very small margins. Lots of risks. Not much of a safety net. In short, there isn’t much that I would say, here you should copy me. I hope very much that my kids don’t repeat all the mistakes I made and that they map out very different lives from me. 

I think what keeps bringing me back to the keyboard is the desire to say, hey, we are all messed up. No one is perfect. But look what Jesus is doing with my mess. Look, this is what sanctification looks like. The daily process of being changed by God’s work in my life. And even this, the sanctification process, I want to show it from a real perspective. No. I don’t become a Christian and then suddenly become this perfect, holy person. In fact, the more I walk with Jesus, the more perfection feels farther and farther away. In truth, every day I get a bigger and bigger understanding of how Unholy I am. And how desperately I need Jesus to cover all my junk with his own holiness. 

Case in point. This past week has been horrible. I have been depressed. My depression has made me revert to bad eating habits which have then made me feel sick. Every morning I got up, got my kids off to school, ran the basic errands, and then crashed in bed until I needed to pick up my kids from school again. I have been walking through a fog and I feel like a failure. How many times have I written about this? You would think, by now, I would be over this and moving on in victory. Healed. Redeemed. Triumphant. 

Apparently not. 

At the same time, a dear friend shared an article about how we keep saying we want God to “Use us”, kind of like employees, but God wants our focus to be on KNOWING him. And it’s out of that knowing that we end up offering service to God, not out of a sense of obligation. And this week, even as I have been dragging low to the ground, I have found myself thinking about who Jesus is, talking to him, feeling his presence with me, and bewildering as it is, not feeling his disapproval of me. Even though I have definitely not been performing or offering any kind of service this week. 

I guess I want to say that I am the poster child of a Messed Up Person Who Is Still Loved By God. Or, this is what God’s Grace looks like in a regular person. And I’m sorry, but it’s not neat and pretty and perfect. It’s sloppy and messy and kind of ugly sometimes. But all that imperfection also serves as a constant reminder that I am saved by Grace, not because I’m this hard working amazing person who follows all the rules, keeps all the laws. No. I’m saved because Jesus decided to save me. And because HE is good and holy and amazing and perfect. 

As I write this blog, I’m sharing myself with you. And that’s kind of scary. Very often I hit the publish button and then instantly have a panic attack. Why did I write that? I shouldn’t have posted that. I need to erase that. Right now. And somehow I fight through the panic, and God gives me peace. It helps to get feedback from you all, and find out that you think the same, have been dealing with the same issues, you know where I’m coming from, etc. I appreciate all of you. I’m thankful for this mutually affirming community we have formed. 

I guess I just want to put out a WARNING label on my blog. 

WARNING: the following material is written by a really imperfect person who is stumbling along through life and trying to figure things out as she goes. Please take everything with a grain of salt. And lots of grace. 

Thanks. 

Emotions Lie

This post is probably a bit off color. Taboo. Things we don’t talk about in mixed company. Sorry. Since this blog is about my life, I get to pick what I write about. 

What has been on my mind this week is how difficult it is to be a woman who is having monthly cycles. For me, once a month, I have an entire week where suddenly my emotions and feelings lie to me. They tell me that I am angry, depressed. There is no hope. Everything is bad. I am a screw up, a failure. I feel tired and run down. Life feels very bleak. And without fail, it usually takes me at least three days before I make the connection…Oh, right. I’m not REALLY depressed and angry. It’s just that time of the month. But the domino effect has already begun. I try to make myself feel better by eating something sweet or some other special treat. I have no energy so maybe I miss a day of exercise. And then I feel worse. I’m so undisciplined. Why can’t I stick to my diet? I’m so lazy. I couldn’t even get out for a walk. 

And then I figure out what’s going on. And it takes me several days to unravel the mess and get myself back on firm ground. And then I move on with life, forget what happened, only to be hit again a month later. 

And reading this, I think, well, duh why haven’t you been more proactive to chart these things and just plan ahead for them? All I can say is, I’m not the most organized person, and life is really busy. I chronically don’t pay attention and then get hit every month. 

And sometimes, the “everything should be fair and equal” part of me rears up a bit in anger. Why is it just women who have to deal with this? And why were we made this way? It seems to be a rather broken system. 

I think this is one of those topics in which I’m going to have to wait till I get to heaven to get the answers.

In the meantime, all I can do is dwell on what I have learned from this aspect of womanhood. 

Here is what I have learned. Emotions and feelings are not reliable, trustworthy or honest indicators of how my life is going. And I constantly have to remind myself of this. One of the things I say to my kids, A LOT, is “Let’s speak some truth over this.” When they tell me about a nightmare that has scared them. A fear that is crippling them. They give me a list of everything that is wrong with life…Ok. Let’s speak some truth over this. Let’s sort out reality from fiction. Let’s count our blessings so we can see that we are actually living in a place of blessing, not curses. Let’s dwell on what God says about us, not what the world says about us. Let’s attack these bad feelings with truth. 

Something we hear a lot in our culture is “Just Follow Your Heart!” And by heart we generally mean what you are feeling. Which seems really weird when feelings are so random and unstable. They are connected to what time of the month it is. Whether we had a lot of inconveniences thrown our way. Whether someone else decided to behave badly toward us. Feelings and emotions are great tools, but only if you don’t take them too seriously. Yeah, I’m feeling really yucky. But that doesn’t mean life is really yucky. It could mean I’m fighting off a cold, my hormones are shifting, my lunch didn’t agree with me. We just have to keep in mind that every surge of emotion needs to be paired up with some truth speaking. 

Urgent Prayer Need

My parents have covid. My dad has the covid pneumonia and has been put into a Covid Unit. My mom is not as sick and is recuperating at home. 

I need to write. My emotions are hitting all four points of the compass and I think several parts of my brain have just shut down temporarily. 

Please pray for our family. 

Right now I need to be in three different places at once and the levels of priority are slight and nuanced and so there is no clear path to figure out where I should be. At this very minute in time, my oldest son is staying with his grandmother to take care of her. My father is holding steady. And so I am doing what is in front of me. Unpacking after vacation. Getting kids ready for school which starts in a week. Buying groceries, school supplies, school clothes. One foot in front of the other. Texting a million people. Talking to nurses. Checking in with everybody often. 

I’m clinging hard to Jesus. Clinging to his promises. I know my father is saved and whenever his life ends here on earth, he will be with Jesus in eternity. I know that God knows we’re not ready for that to happen yet. I know that my Mom is in God’s hands. But I hate seeing her suffer. I know that sickness is not a punishment, just part of living in this fallen world. But I also know God can heal. I know that God is good. I know that I am loved and not alone. But my adrenaline is pumping hard and I feel like it’s me versus Covid as I try to make everything better for my parents. Long to make everything better. 

I need wisdom. The doctors need wisdom. My whole family needs wisdom. And Peace. Please pray that we can keep our eyes focused on Jesus as we navigate this horrible time. 

“Ravished”

Several years ago my older kids learned a dance to a song called “Ravished” by Jesse Cline and Ashleigh Brison.  It’s from the album “Breathe Ultimate Call”. I love this song. Every time I hear it I cry. I remember watching my children worship as they performed this song and it was like a foreshadowing of heaven. Watching your children worship Jesus is the ultimate goal for parenthood. 

Now, as I interact with my adult children and other people in the same age range, fresh, just starting out into the world, I feel like this song says everything that I want them to know. 

These are the words from the Bridge: 

Bridge 1

Whеn I was broken

When I was wounded

Like a hero, You saved the day

Your love has rescued me

But now that I’m made new

I found new life in You

And I’m never going back

Oh, You have my heart

You have my heart

And I found it all in You

And I’m sitting here crying because I want everyone to know this. Jesus is the answer. That’s it. There is no other way to get through this life. There aren’t any shortcuts. There aren’t any other paths that lead in the same direction. Jesus. That’s it. Accepted on his terms. He is Lord. He is Savior. Give your life to him. Surrender completely. It’s the only way to have happiness in this life. The only way to peace. The only way to Joy. How do you make it through this crazy thing called life? Jesus. How do you survive anxiety and depression? Jesus. How do you figure out what to do with your life? Follow Jesus, he’ll show you. How do you fix the brokenness in your life? Jesus. How do you become the best version of you possible? Jesus. 

I don’t know how to convince people of this except to say, Look. Here is my life. Here is how I’m getting through. Jesus. Everything I do, He is the only way that I’m doing it. And I would never do it a different way. I have found everything I need in him. 

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

And my heart sings, “I found it all in you.” And I want everyone to have this same peace and confidence. Jesus. He is the answer. 

Unneeded Distractions

I haven’t written in a week. Which is weird for me. Not a sign of good mental health. Writing = thinking and processing. When I don’t write, it usually means I am avoiding thinking and processing. Now, some of this week was busy with seeing out-of-town family, and that was a great break. But, the past four days, I’ve kept thinking, I should sit down and write, and then I don’t. Instead my brain has been grasping for distractions. Let’s read a book. Let’s get in some extra exercise. Let’s zone out on social media. I’ve even found myself re-visiting old stories I used to play out in my head for entertainment. And I found myself faced with this question. What are you looking for? What is it that you are so desperately seeking in all these distractions? 

Good question. 

What am I looking for? 

Validation. I’m not just an invisible maid and caretaker that keeps the house running and keeps the kids alive and happy. I’m an individual whose feelings matter and who brings value to the table. 

Recognition. I want to be seen. I want to have people in my life who seek me out and find my presence to be important to them. 

Security.  I want to feel safe and cared for. To not feel like my existence and lifestyle is in any way fragile. 

Purpose. I want to feel like my daily actions have meaning. What I’m doing counts. 

Achievement. I want to feel like I am heading towards a goal and every day I am getting closer. 

Peace. I want to feel like no matter what happens, I’m good. Nothing’s going to rock my boat. 

Joy. I want each day to be a celebration of life and creation. A journey of thankfulness. 

I’m not wanting too much, am I? 

Here’s the thing. I think I have most of those things already. Perhaps not in a steady stream. But, if I look back at even just the last couple months, I can say, yes, there have been moments where I have had each of those things at different times. Sometimes all at once, sometimes just one or another. But they’ve been there. 

I think awareness is my problem. Life starts to get overwhelming and my vision gets really narrow. All I can see are the problems in front of me. The exhaustion I’m feeling. The weariness. And my eyes just sit and focus on what is wrong. This is wrong. And that is wrong. And here, let me make you a list of everything that is wrong and hard in my life right now. And all those good things, all those things on my list that I want and HAVE, they just kind of fade into the background. I forget they are there. And eventually, focusing on the bad stuff robs me of hope and energy and I just kind of melt into a useless puddle. 

So what am I going to do about it? 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

These are not simple platitudes. They are more like death-defying challenges. Can you rejoice always??? Pray continually?? GIVE THANKS IN ALL THINGS??? Not an easy path to choose. Which is why it’s a good thing we have the Holy Spirit as our helper. 

John 14:26  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and remind you of all that I said to you.

It’s a battle. A daily battle. In Christ, we already have all that we need. There is no reason to go searching for fulfilment in empty distractions. But it’s really easy to forget. When we focus on rejoicing, praying, thankfulness; we quickly get our vision back. 

Now, I’m going to go put on some worship music and try practicing what I preach. 

Penance or Grace?

This past week I’ve been thinking about penance and grace. The dictionary gives the following definition for penance:

pen·ance

noun

  1. 1.
    voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong.

I have been on a journey this year to lose weight. At the beginning of my journey I was losing two pounds a week. Yay! It felt like I was making good progress. Then the weight loss slowed down to one pound a week. And that just feels agonizingly slow. Every week I am working out six days a week, I am keeping a record of everything I eat, keeping my calories at the right amount, always choosing the healthier options, checking in with a personal trainer daily…it’s a lot of work just to see the scale move one pound. 

And I had this thought. This is my penance for being overweight. My punishment for gluttony and sloth. My just dues for allowing myself to get to this place of needing to lose so much weight.

And that thought felt very comfortable. Yes. I am facing the consequences of bad choices, and I’m just going to have to work really really hard to get myself back to a good weight. It’s all my fault and this is my punishment. 

So, I kept hold of this idea for a couple days and then, all of sudden, out of nowhere, this thought popped into my head. What if, instead of punishment, this is grace? 

Definition of grace (Entry 1 of 2)

1a: unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification

What if I have simply not been in a place, mentally or spirtually, to be able to fully learn how to take care of my body the way I need to? And finally I am in that place. And God is teaching me how to care for myself. And it’s a long process. A long process of breaking off bad habits and establishing good ones. A long process of learning how to gage how much food is “enough” and how much is just gluttony. A long process of learning how to enjoy movement, exercise. A long process of changing my lifestyle so that it embraces health. What if that one pound a week is a symbol of grace. Proof that God does not simply leave me wallowing in my sin, but has opened a way for me to change. 

Last night I attended a Celebration of Life service for a man who had recently died of Covid. I was not personally friends with him, but I am friends with his wife and one of his daughters. As people shared stories of his life and personality and character, a picture was painted of a wonderful father and husband and friend. But what really stood out to me was the observation, by more than one person, that this man was who he was because he was a follower of Jesus. It was Jesus’ grace in his life that enabled him to be this wonderful father, husband, friend. And I think about this as I think about penance and grace. 

God’s grace in my life enables me to become the best version of myself. It’s not about punishment any more. Jesus already took that punishment on the cross and then declared that It was Finished. Yes, we face the consequences of our sins, but it is not in a spirit of punishment and condemnation. It is a spirit of Grace. Here, my daughter. The way you are choosing is not bringing you life, try doing it my way instead. Let me restore you, strengthen you. Walk with me and I will turn your ashes into beauty. 

Penance or grace? I choose grace. Or rather, grace chose me. 

The Record Player

I have a record player in my head. Any time I am feeling down, or insecure, the record player starts playing. It’s a voice that goes over all my accomplishments. In high school you did this…When you were in college you did this…Remember that time you did that one thing? And all these things are the “good” things that I feel like I have done. Places where I have excelled. Things I have mastered. Memories of me being great. Basically a list of all my righteous deeds. 

The other day I was having an interesting conversation with someone about different religions and the main point that we landed on was “good works”. I was explaining that in Christianity, we don’t believe that our good works save us. The only thing that saves us is the work that Jesus did on the cross. His forgiveness of our sins. All the good deeds in the world won’t get us into heaven. Just the grace of God that is offered us through belief in Jesus. 

Now, I know these things. I’ve been taught these things for a long time. But that record player still exists. My list of good deeds makes me feel better about myself. Boosts my confidence, soothes my low self-esteem. Justifies my behavior. (Maybe I messed up here, but look, usually I’m a good person!)

Last night I heard the record player turn on, but instead of listening to the voice, reliving all the good memories, I stepped back a pace, and questioned why this record player even existed? Why do I do this? 

I have been trying to take these thoughts captive today. Bring them to a halt. All those good things do nothing to give you worth. Your worth comes from being loved by Jesus. He is one that has done all the work, not you. 

This last Sunday I watched the first episode of the second season of THE CHOSEN. If you have not watched season 1, I highly, highly, highly, recommend it. You can get The Chosen App, free, in your app store and see all the episodes free. Season 2 is just starting to come out. 

Something that really stood out to me was the foreignness of Jesus. He said and did things that the disciples were not expecting, took them off guard, had them constantly guessing what was going to happen next. This stood out to me because I feel like now, so many years later, we think we have Jesus figured out. We have the scriptures to read, we know the stories, we have developed elaborate traditions around the life and work of Jesus. He fits very comfortably inside a beautiful box. We are very comfortable with the Jesus that exists in our heads. And that comfortableness makes us complacent, stuck in our ruts. 

Watching The Chosen brought home to me that I don’t have Jesus all figured out. He is his own person, God in fact, and I do not understand all of his ways, nor do I perfectly walk in all of his ways. And I feel empathy with the disciples. They didn’t get it right away. In fact, even after three years of walking with Jesus, (in person!) they still messed up sometimes. And my heart feels full of thankfulness at the grace Jesus gave the disciples and that he gives me, now. Yes, I’ve been walking with him, most of my life, but I still sometimes completely miss the point. My record player turns on and I cling to my own good works, completely forgetting that I am saved by Grace, Jesus’ work on the cross, His Forgiveness. My worth comes, not from being a “good” person, but from being a child of God. 

But Jesus

Easter = Hope

Imagine a life without hope. 

You’ve got an addiction? Sucks to be you. Guess it will kill you in the end. 

Family dysfunction? Guess you got unlucky. Too bad. 

Fear is ruining  your ability to live a normal life? Oh well. 

You’ve got wounds from past trauma? That’s life. 

Incurable sickness? It was nice knowing you. 

Going to die soon? I guess that’s the end of your brief existence. 

There are two words in the Bible that one of our preachers pointed out was the most beautiful thing ever written…

But, Christ….

Lord. Savior. Messiah. Emmanuel…Jesus. But Jesus.

[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read,  and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

    because he has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

    and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free, 

    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:16-19

But, Jesus. 

I was stuck in my sin. Dead, unable to help myself in any way. But Jesus. 

I was damaged goods. But Jesus. 

I was lost. But Jesus. 

I was alone. But Jesus. 

My eternal soul was sentenced to hell. But Jesus.

Surely he took up our pain

    and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,

    stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

    he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

    and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

    each of us has turned to our own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

    the iniquity of us all. 

Isaiah 53: 4-6

As we enter this Easter weekend may the Hope of the Lord fill your life. 

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10: 9-13

But Jesus. 

I was lost, but now I am found. I was dead. But now I am alive. I was depressed, anxious, alone, broken. Now, I am healed. Part of a heavenly family. Secure. 

But Jesus. 

Happy Easter everybody.