Believers Are Not Prey Animals

My mouse is dying, and I guess sometimes I am too.

Cougar is an adorable little fancy mouse I bought from a pet store over a year ago, and she’s determined to live up to her name. All my daydreams about holding her in my hand or carrying her in my pocket Mr-Bojangles-style ended when she refused to have any sort of physical contact with me that didn’t involve her teeth.

And now she’s dying–literally killing herself with a form of OCD that involves chronic scratching. It hurts me to see her so weak and in so much pain, knowing that at this point all I can hope to do is make her comfortable.

Fancy mice are prey animals. Prey animals such as these will hide any sickness or weakness as long as they can so they won’t be weak targets for predators. Often, when their weakness becomes too much for them to hide, they’re too far gone to be saved. Once their weakness shows, it’s too late.

I suppose it makes sense if you’re a prey animal living in the wild. It makes a lot less sense for humans, and yet so often we act the same way.

We were meant to live in open community. We were meant to share our concerns, our joys, our sorrows, our fears, and even our sins–not only with God, but also with one another. Yet our instinct, at least in the West, is to put on a happy face or a Christian face or a perfect face while we’re killing ourselves on the inside. We keep pretending we’re fine while we scratch ourselves to death with fear of someone finding out the truth.

For the greater part of this year so far, my family and I have gone through a hell so terrible that words cannot describe it. I reached a point where I was sitting on a bed in a hotel room, completely immobile in my weakness. I literally didn’t know how to survive the next five minutes of my life. I didn’t know how to stand up or walk or shower or get dressed. And I was deeply hurt that no one in our church small group had called to check on us. But here’s the thing: we didn’t tell them what was happening. We had put on a happy face that everything was fine, and we’d hidden our weakness until we were at the absolute bottom of a dark pit, scratching ourselves to death in sorrow.

So I sent a message to some of our small group friends, and they began praying. They shared the request with our leader and others, who also began praying. And somehow our family was able to take one more small step, and one more small step. Hiding our weaknesses weakened us. Sharing our weaknesses strengthened us.

In times of severe weakness, one verse always comes to mind: “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11, emphasis added)

Note the communal aspect of his statement: that he was completely honest about his struggles, that many people have helped him by praying for him, and that many people will share in glorifying God as a result of those answered prayers.

The good news is: unless you’re dead, it’s not too late. You’re not too far gone to be saved. It’s not to late to share your weaknesses and sicknesses in a safe community. There are predators out there who will take advantage of your weaknesses. But there are also communities of believers who thrive when weak people are honest about their weaknesses. If you don’t have a safe place among genuine believers, I encourage you to seek one out. You are not a prey animal. You are not meant to go through this alone.

Is there a weakness you’re struggling to hide? Do you have a safe community of believers you can trust with your weaknesses?

about tunnel vision skillz

I spent well over half of the past nine years working in restaurants. I like to think I was pretty good at it. I was Employee of the Month at one of them and still have the shirt somewhere to prove it. By the time I quit working in restaurants, I was the girl who could take between ten and twenty orders at a time without writing them down and get them all correct. Working as a hostess/busser/server/bartender taught me a lot of skills I’ve been able to use in everyday life, as strange as that may seem. Things like: anticipating what people were going to do or say next; knowing what’s going on around me without having to look up; focusing on facial expressions and tones of voice to remember specific conversations; knowing how to handle drunks, jerks, hecklers, and sexual harassers; and multitasking like you wouldn’t believe. I also learned how to make a darn good mojito, but that’s probably irrelevant for this blog.

One of the first lessons I learned was that tunnel vision is bad, bad, bad. Instead of focusing on going from the server station to the expo counter to the table to the dish pit and back again, I was taught to stay alert to everything going on around me. If someone walked in the front door and needed to be greeted, I should see him and greet him. If there was trash on the floor, I should see it and pick it up. If a guest at another server’s table needed a refill, I should see it and take care of it. Let me tell you: this is an easy lesson to learn for someone with rabid ADD, so I learned it quickly and I learned it well. Almost every job since that first restaurant has required my anti-tunnel vision skillz.

So here’s what God’s telling me lately: Forget all that. Get tunnel vision.

In a previous blog, I shared my Chazown–the very specific vision God gave me for my life. The writing, the speaking, all of that. I also shared how God led me to quit my job and send support letters asking for people to be a part of this vision by supporting us financially while I write. It was a very clear vision he gave me, and as I’ve followed him, the peace I have with all of it is astounding. And when I’m in tunnel vision mode, God’s vision is all I can think about. I’m committed.

But then all these “opportunities” started coming up. Well-meaning people with offers of jobs or suggestions that don’t fit into the vision God gave me. In fact, they would pull me far away from that very vision I was following when all this started. The offers and suggestions play on my need for financial stability and job security and health insurance and pride and others’ approval and, well, basically everything that contradicts faith. All these things might make sense, but choosing them is like me saying to God, “I trust in you, kinda’, but just in case, I’ll have this fallback plan.” God keeps reminding me he doesn’t need a Plan B and neither should I. He keeps telling me to have tunnel vision. Focus on his vision and block out anything else.

Remember Acts 20:18-25?

“[Paul] declared, “You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now I have done the Lord’s work . . . I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus. And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God. And now I know that none of you to whom I have preached the Kingdom will ever see me again.”

God gave Paul a vision very early on: to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, to share the Gospel with everyone, regardless of whether they were Jews or Gentiles. Several times, Paul’s friends and followers discouraged him from going to Jerusalem, knowing they would never see him again. But he clung tight to the vision, the Chazown, God gave him and pressed forward. Even when it didn’t make sense, Paul kept his tunnel vision. He wasn’t distracted by well-meaning people with logical opportunities.

That’s my prayer for us this morning. God, give us tunnel vision.

about the (misnomer about the) joy of being single

I’m 28 (and a half). I’ve been married six months (and one week). Prior to getting married, Ronnie and I were dating or engaged (it pretty much all ran together) for just over four months, and that was almost the longest relationship I’d had to that point. Did you catch that? Prior to Ronnie, my longest dating relationship was five months. Before that, something like three months. Then one that lasted twenty-eight ill-fated days. Then several that lasted two or three weeks at a time. What this means is: I’m really, really good at being single. Really. I’m so good at being single that I led (or co-led) three different small groups for singles in the years leading up to my marriage (and I like to think I was a pretty good singles’ leader as well). When it comes to being single, I’ve totally got this one down.

Several weeks ago in my quiet time I was praying for some of my single friends. A few of them were going through some very single-related struggles, and I was praying for peace and wisdom for them, God, please give them focus, and also please reveal to them the joy of being single–

Those words actually came out of my mouth: “the joy of being single.” I was horrified. The next thing I said to God was, “What the heck? Now I’m one of those people who talks about ‘the joy of being single’?!” I laughed. I like to think God laughed along with me, maybe shook his head at me, probably even called me a tool.

Let me be clear, for those of you married folk who have forgotten what it was like: there is no joy of being single for single’s sake. There is a very definite (and definitely bittersweet) lack of responsibility, but other than that? Nothing. Being single sucks. And anyone who says otherwise is either married, lying, or a sociopath. Or maybe even all three.

Here’s why being single sucks, from a girl’s perspective: you really want to be nurturing to someone. You want someone to protect you and provide for you and be able to make those final decisions when you’re feeling particularly indecisive, like which movie you should go see or whether you should order your usual at a restaurant or try something new. You want someone to cuddle with when you’re watching a movie or when you just wake up or sometimes just for no reason at all. You want someone to bring you medicine and 7up and crackers when you’re sick, without you having to ask for it. You want someone to tell you how beautiful you look, especially when you feel ugly but spent hours getting ready to look like someone who really is beautiful and not just someone trying to look like someone who is beautiful. And your girlfriends are great and sweet and supportive, but sometimes they just don’t cut it. Especially when they start a serious relationship and just aren’t around anymore. Then you naturally gravitate to other single friends and start using them as your substitute but somewhat inadequate partner.

Then there’s the BS about that whole dating thing. It might just be the worst idea we’ve had yet. In fact, I had a long rant here about it, but I took it out. We’ll save that one for later. In the meantime, if you want an idea of what relationships should be, check out Joshua Harris’ “Boy Meets Girl.” I firmly believe that every single person should read it. Today.

And then, the absolute worst thing about being single is (drum roll, please): time. Let’s be honest, when you’re single, you’ve got a lot of time. And that can be great when you want to watch a One Tree Hill marathon or take an overnight trip to Austin or spend hours shopping. But when you’ve got a lot of time, you’ve got a lot of time to think. And that inevitably will turn to thinking about how badly you want to be nurturing to someone. And how you want someone to protect you and make decisions and bring medicine and cuddle and tell you you’re beautiful and smart and witty and, uh, well-spoken and friendly and hilarious and fun to be around and, well, you get the picture. When you’re single, you have the time to focus on what you wish you had. Granted, there have been several times in the past six months (and one week) when I had time to think about what I wish I had, like more clothes or Criminal Minds on DVD or a car door that actually opens when I pull the handle. But the things I wish I had seem to be less in focus now than they used to be. It would be easy to say it’s because my husband has completed me and I now have everything I need in life and am just completely fulfilled as a result of our marriage. That would be a lie. Don’t get me wrong, we have a great marriage. Ronnie says we have the marriage that everyone wishes they had, and I tend to agree. Even at our worst, he’s the only person I always want around. But the truth is, he has not “completed” me, not in that way. Even in our premarital class last Spring, one of the first statements they taught us was, “Your spouse will not complete you.” It’s a lie that Jerry McGuire told us fourteen years ago, and for some reason, we all bought into it.

So, if being married or having less me-time isn’t what gave me focus and fulfillment, what did? It was a learning process. Focus and fulfillment were gradual lessons I’ve learned, and not just lessons I started six months (and one week) ago, or even since Ronnie and I started dating last January. It was a process I started learning several years ago when I committed my life to Christ and actually meant it.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but something had shifted in me. I gradually stopped thinking of my time as my time and started thinking it more along the lines of time God had given me to accomplish his work. Being single has a significant lack of responsibility and more “free” time, and we–whether we’re aware of it or not–make a choice on how to use that responsibility and that time. Not long after I’d begun working for the church, one of our pastors made the comment to me, “Now I know what Paul meant when he said people shouldn’t get married.” At the time, I was constantly going somewhere or doing something for God. I was working way more hours than I was supposed to, volunteering with the youth, volunteering as a small group leader, volunteering with the children on the weekends, attending our prayer gathering, and, in my spare time, was working on various projects for other people. Truthfully, it was a lot, probably way more than what God actually wanted me doing. It took its toll on me and, over the next couple months, God destroyed my world and built it back up again. If I ever finish my book one of these days, you’ll know what I mean.

But what I had begun to realize was: if I stopped looking at myself and my wants and my needs and my time, I had so much time to do God’s work.

I don’t believe there is a joy in being single. I do, however, believe there is a joy in doing God’s work. There is a joy in having less familial responsibilities so you can focus on God’s will for your life. There is a joy in having less in-depth earthly relationships so you can focus on building up your relationship with God. I don’t believe God wants people to be single just for the heck of it. It’s because he needs them to do a work for him that they need to be single for. Or because he wants them to focus on their relationship with him before introducing them to more relationships with others.

I would not have married Ronnie if I didn’t believe 100% that God has a plan for us to serve him as a couple that will bring more glory to him than if we were serving him separately. For whatever reason, God can use us together in some specific way that we wouldn’t be usable apart from one another. And that thought excites me more than I can put into words. But he didn’t say, “Okay, Rebecca just committed her life to me, so now she can get married.” He said, “Okay, great, now Rebecca’s working for me, and when she’s done working for me by herself, I’ll have Ronnie ready as well and they’ll get married and accomplish these great works for me.” It’s in his plan, and Ronnie and I have both known it going into this.

So. As a side note, I wouldn’t recommend anyone following exactly the way I did things. I don’t recommend anyone getting engaged within three days of dating someone or getting married in four months. Because if I wasn’t me, I would think me was crazy getting married so quickly. But I had been trained over the past few years in how to hear God and how to recognize his moving and his timing, and we both knew what God’s intentions were (and are) for us. And I wouldn’t recommend anyone filling up all of their waking hours with work and volunteering. I do know now, after God has forced me to see it, the importance of rest and a Sabbath.

I told one of my best friends this week that I have the spiritual gift of unsolicited advice. And, to be frank, that’s pretty much what all the spiritual gifts tests have told me. So here’s my recommendation, to all my single brothers and sisters:
First, if you don’t have a daily quiet time with God, you have to make that happen. Start now. Start with five minutes a day, work up to ten, and thirty, and an hour. You won’t ever know what God’s best is for your life (whether in relationships or otherwise), if you’re not listening to him.
Second: get involved. Get involved in a church, get involved in a small group of like-minded singles. What I mean by “like-minded” is a group that isn’t just a dating game. Like-minded people are the people who are going to church and small groups to actually learn more about God and develop godly relationships. There are some groups like that out there. Not a lot, but some. Get accountability. Find people who will support you without encouraging selfish behavior.
Third: serve. Serve in your church, serve outside of your church. Pray daily about who you can serve that day. Look for ways every day to inconvenience yourself to show love to others.

No, I’m not an expert on being married and relationships and blah, blah, blah. But if there ever was any kind of joy of being single, I think I’m an expert on it. Or at least on redefining it. I don’t know a lot in this world, but I do know the power of a relationship with God. I do know his blessings. And I do know that if you’re single, he wants you that way for now. Maybe not next week, maybe not next month, maybe not in five years. But now, in this moment, he wants to use you more where you’re at as a single girl or guy than as a married person.

about this thing we call spiritual warfare

Let’s talk about it.
I had no clue what it was until one of my friends mentioned spiritual warfare on our trip to China a year and a half ago. I was raised in churches and exposed to lots of different opinions and traditions about God and Satan and angels and demons, but I thought that was all out there and this is all down here and in the back of my mind, I have to confess I thought, “He’s totally over-spiritualizing things.” And now, after having been under siege in just about every way imaginable, I’m beginning to realize it’s nearly impossible to over-spiritualize anything.

I deal with repeated attacks as simple as mentioned in the previous post, when I full well allow Satan to lie to me as I give him an ear to listen. But it goes beyond that. Things like being attacked through my dreams, dreams that go further than “bad dreams” or “restless sleep,” although even in that I think there’s something to be said of attacks when we’re weak and vulnerable, when doing so can impact our focus on Christ and our effectiveness in working for the kingdom. Things like being physically pinned to my bed, unable to move until praying for Christ’s rebuke of whatever was attacking me, or feeling an overwhelming uneasiness while praying for someone so tightly held in bondage by the devil she hasn’t spoken in three years. Things like, while praying on location for a group of people I have a huge burden for, hearing an audible explosion while seeing nothing, feeling an intense heaviness, my Bible falling out of my hands, the praise music suddenly turning to static, and the Holy Spirit speaking to me very clearly and very loudly the words, “Go. Now.” Things like right before I see amazing movements of God, being attacked by friends, being hurt by family, being overcome by physical pain or sickness, or even on some occasions and more frequently as of late, all three.

I could say more, but I know even now some people will read this and think it’s all in my head, it’s just normal aspects of life, I’m over-spiritualizing everything. But the thing is, scripture would disagree.

I’ve had the amazing experience in the past year and a half of working for our church and seeing God move in ways I never thought he could. I have heard testimony after testimony of how God has radically impacted people’s lives, and it’s an incredible honor I love being part of. On the other side of that, I have also seen Satan try radical ways of keeping people from God. I’ve seen the way specifically he’s attacked our pastors and their families, especially right before big weekends where many people were able to meet Christ for the first time. It’s almost predictable at times. I say that but I don’t mean that we welcome it or look forward to any spiritual attacks or persecution. I say that we expect it because scripture tells us it’s going to happen and we need to be prepared. You don’t just run into the middle of a war without being prepared. You put on your armor; you stay alert; you stay persistent. The Bible tells us the same thing. Ephesians 6 tells us to “put on the full armor of God,” because “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” 2 Corinthians 10 tells us that “though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” We know what we’re fighting against, and we know how to fight it. The Bible makes it very clear.

So we recognize it for what it is, and indeed if we pray for the wisdom to see it, God will grant us that wisdom. But, like I said, we don’t desire persecution. We definitely don’t taunt the devil. Jude tells us that not even Michael mocked the devil but instead allowed Christ to rebuke him.

We can, however, be encouraged by persecution and spiritual attacks. We’ve noticed that the times Satan works the hardest to push and pull people away from God is either right before they make commitments to Christ or as they’re being effective for him. So now, having experienced more attacks as I draw closer to Christ and more attacks as I’m able to serve others around me, I begin to find encouragement by these experiences. In fact, Christ told us in Matthew to be happy about it because “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. […] For a great reward awaits you in heaven.”

And not only do I know that these things suggest I’m doing something right for the kingdom, I also continue to find encouragement in Joseph, knowing that what Satan intends for evil against me, God intends for good. God isn’t surprised by Satan’s attacks. God knows how to protect his people and he knows how to use any evil to work out for good. Christ already won the victory, and he’s coming back to defeat Satan once and for all. I praise God that I’m able to assist in working out a continuous victory for God.

Do I like all these things going on around me? No, in fact, I do not, and I’d prefer if life was a cakewalk for here on out. But even Christ, before the crucifixion prayed that, if it be possible, his cup of suffering to be taken away from him, yet not his will, but God’s be done. And still, knowing what he was in for, he allowed himself to be tortured and murdered for my sins. The least that I can do is stand by him while I have this life and celebrate with him in the next.

I could probably talk for hours about these things, but I’ll leave it to Paul, who said it best in Acts 20: “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus–the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.”

about that empathy with paul

I love the epistles, the letters that compose a good chunk of the New Testament. I love them because they’re so applicable, so much more in reach at times than the Old Testament prophets and commandments and sacrificial laws. Don’t get me wrong—I love the Old Testament. I love the whole Bible, reading it, applying it, watching it continue to work itself out around me. But there’s something about the Old Testament that is either too vague or too specific. For too vague, read some of the prophets who speak of impending doom and a coming Savior with a lot of code and double-speak and, by the way, anytime the Old Testament mentions a “whore,” it’s usually talking about a country. Or a town. Or foolishness. It’s never about the skanky girl on the primetime TV show. For too specific, read through Leviticus and parts of Numbers and Deuteronomy and see how doing this one action on this one day of the year deserves this one method of punishment for seven days outside the city. And that’s probably what they needed then, but in America right now, cutting off the hand of a woman who grabs some guy’s junk while he’s fighting with her man is not exactly legal.

It’s the letters that always grabbed my attention the most growing up, because I could take comfort in them and learn self-discipline from applying their wisdom. They’re easy to memorize and applicable in daily situations. It’s good, practical advice and, by the way, when the epistles mentions whore-like behavior, it’s not talking about a country or a town or foolishness. It’s talking about the skanky girl on the primetime TV show and what happens when we start acting more like her and less like Christ. See, that I can actually understand.

James was always my favorite growing up, the letter James wrote to Jewish believers of Christ. It, like the other letters, reaffirms the gospel. It encourages, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (1:12). It also corrects, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless” (1:26). For someone like myself who was born with the habit of talking before thinking, reading verses like that is lovingly correcting and, while I still talk way too much and pray about it more than you might think, I’m aware that it’s a situation that needs to be addressed. All of the letters are this way.

Many of them are Paul et al.’s letters to the people of Galatia or Corinth or Thessalonica. Sometimes Paul is commending the churches’ behavior. Sometimes he scolds them. Always he says how much he misses them, how much he longs to see them, how much he prays for them. He references hearing reports from people he’s sent on ahead of how the churches are doing and how encouraged or discouraged he is by their reports. He mentions bragging on specific churches and people, telling others how much God is moving in their lives. All of this takes up significant portions of each letter, and I always felt they were just formal niceties that didn’t mean anything, and I’d skip over them. Until last night, when I finally understood all these things Paul has been talking about.

Having mono has been one of the worst experiences of my life. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s hard to put into words how hopeless the whole thing is. There’s no treatment, there’s no ETA for getting rid of the stupid thing, and there’s no way for me to work through it like I have everything else in my life. Normally my life is multi-tasking: eating while working while watching a TV show on mute and listening to music. And now I lie awake because I can barely sleep but I don’t have the strength to move, and I think over and over about everything I’m not getting done for work, for our upcoming wedding, for our new house, etc. But that’s another post for another time, because God has already shown me many things from this whole unpleasant ordeal.

Our LifeHouse is our small group of about twenty 20- & 30-somethings who aren’t married. We meet once a week to share about what God is doing in and around us and what we learned from the previous week’s sermon. We discuss how it does or doesn’t apply to our lives. We pray together and we leave. I’ve been participating in or leading a LifeHouse since probably September of 2007. But for some reason, this particular group we have now is seeing a move of God like I haven’t seen in a small group before. People are openly sharing their struggles and encouraging one another, building each other up, supporting each other through very serious problems. I love being a part of it. And then, suddenly, the mono strikes and so far I’ve missed about a month’s worth of meetings. I really hate it, but at the same time, I continue to hear about what’s going on through my co-leader or through my fiancé. They tell me stories from LifeHouse that, even though I wasn’t there, still encourage me. Because I know the people in that group and I have a deep love for them. I pray for them and I brag about them to everyone I can, and more than anything I marvel at the way God is moving in them.

The past two weeks I’ve sent out emails to the group with their prayer requests and keep feeling more and more like Paul. Finally, I understand all those things from his letters that I thought were obligatory comments and formal niceties. I tell them how much I miss them, how much I long to see them, and how much I pray for them. It seems a little silly, maybe, because I often feel a lot closer to the Saul-before-Paul than to the Paul who wrote those letters. But it’s an encouragement to me that God has used this time to help me understand the complete love, passion, and compassion Paul had for the people of these churches. It alters ever-so-slightly the way I view the epistles, as not empty letters filled with good advice from a spiritual authority, but rather as heartfelt outpourings of love and encouragement from an equal brother in Christ who genuinely wants to see the churches grow and wants more than anything to know how God is continuing to minister to and through them.

I love how those things Satan intends for evil, God works out for good. I feel like this whole stage of having a ridiculous, nonsensical illness is one of those things intended for evil. But, like I said, this isn’t the first thing God’s used to mono to teach or remind me, and I doubt it will be the last.