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Healing for your bones

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What I learned from walking on a broken leg

The day after Christmas, my sister talked me into going ice skating. It had been years since I’d laced up a pair of skates, but I took to the ice like a pro. Okay fine, not exactly like a pro. But I was skating quite well and having a great time, and that’s when I learned the main difference between me and the professionals: professionals have been trained how to fall without twisting their ankle and fracturing their leg. That’s right — five minutes before our skate time was up, this is exactly what I did.

As I went down, I knew it would be a bad fall. I wondered if I would break something. But I was able to get up and walk away. I was in pain and my leg was swollen, but no one with me thought it was broken. And let’s face it. I didn’t want it to be broken. I didn’t want to spend the night in an ER waiting room; I didn’t want this to slow me down. So, I decided to take some ibuprofen, apply ice, and keep an eye on it — if it got worse, I’d go to the doc. But it didn’t get worse. It got better. After two days, my limp was gone. After three, I was back at the gym. If I took it easy, I didn’t have any pain.

They say hindsight is 20/20, and looking back, of course I can see signs that I should have had this checked out, but at the time, they were easy to ignore. It was easy to rationalize why it would still be hurting — why my ankle was still swollen. You don’t fall that hard and not have pain, right? After three weeks of telling myself I didn’t need to slow down — that I could push through this — I finally gave in and decided to see the doctor. More for peace of mind than anything.

That was three and a half weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been in a cast up to my mid thigh, hobbling around on crutches. And let me tell you one thing I’ve learned — if God needs to slow you down, he can do it. I’m not suggesting that God caused my fall, but I am saying that he used it. He used it to get my attention. To give me some time to pray, listen, and think.

One thing I realized during this time is how we often ignore sin in much the same way I ignored my injury. Think about it. When God begins to bring sin issues to our attention, it’s easier to ignore them or make excuses than face up to them. If we admit to them, that means we have deal with them, and dealing with the sin in our lives is messy, unpleasant, and downright inconvenient. We want to continue with our normal routine. Addressing sin would simply rock the boat.

The thing is that, much like my injury, sin won’t go away just because we ignore it. We can try to convince ourselves that it’s getting better. We can clean up our lives just enough that the outward signs of it our gone. But unless we’ve addressed the heart issue, the pain, division, and dissatisfaction caused by sin will remain.

God used my injury to show me some areas where I’d been ignoring sin in my own life. He used it to show me that my focus was off. I was pursuing other things with the vigor and attention that should have been focused on him. My injury forced me to take a break from some of these things and to look at my heart. And it gave me time to re-focus my attention back on God. And so, I’m thankful. Having a broken leg sucks, and hobbling around on crutches is a drag. But having a God who loves me enough to call me out on my crap, encourage me to face up to my sin, and draw me closer to himself, is pretty awesome. For that, I’m thankful.

A week or so ago, I came across a verse in Proverbs 3 that reads, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing for your flesh and refreshment for your bones.” I’d read the verse before, but it took on a whole new meaning when I literally had a broken bone. And I think it gets to the core of what God’s been teaching me. Making excuses for, or ignoring, sin is human wisdom. If I’m wise in my own eyes, then I’m too proud to admit when God calls me out on my sin. But if I honestly fear God, I’ll want nothing more than to address my sin issues and turn from the evil in my heart. And that’s my prayer, that as God continues to bring physical health and refreshment, he’ll also work on my heart, stripping me of “self wisdom” and giving me the strength to turn away from sin.

Written by liferenewed

February 11, 2011 at 12:51 am

Living under a curse

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Finding freedom by embracing imperfection

Every morning begins with a stare down between me and my arch enemy. I look in the mirror, sizing up my body as if I expect that seven hours of sleep will have caused pounds to evaporate and muscles to emerge. It’s on, I think, an obvious giveaway that I haven’t left the dream world. We’re really not lookin’ so bad. I try to comfort myself with the reminder that it’s been worse. A lot worse. Oh yeah, retorts my body. Just hop on the scale. Its been better too—you’ve been better. My enemy doesn’t even have to deliver that final jab—the one that cuts the deepest. I do that all on my own.

It’s a clever enemy who can turn you against yourself. And my enemy has all sorts of tools for doing that. Scales and mirrors are some of the most effective. But when those aren’t handy, there’s a million other ways of engaging me in the fight. Comparison’s a classic, because it doesn’t take much. It’s subjective. And if I’m not paying attention, pretty soon I’m not just telling myself that I could be better, I’m also beginning to believe that I’m inferior to everyone around me.

Couple this with years of insecurity, and for perfectionist control freaks like myself, it’s a dangerous concoction. I can change this. I can prove myself. And until I do, what’s my worth? How can I even live with myself? It’s shameful to see such thoughts in writing, but these are the lies my enemy gets me to tell myself.

Trapped in this deception, I enter the fight. I count calories. I beat my body up at the gym. I listen to the voice and step on the scale every morning — knowing what it will say before I even get on. I do this for reassurance —reassurance that my enemy isn’t gaining ground, reassurance that even if I’m not winning, at least I haven’t given up on the battle. But the irony is that the more I engage in the fighting, the more I become a slave to the enemy, to my physical body, to perfection. As I begin to buy into this belief that I can conquer and control my body—that I can beat it into submission, I enter a battle I can never win. For as long as I live on earth, I will remain imperfect.

This is something the apostle Paul understood well. In Romans, he says that believers groan with the rest of creation because we “long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.” Though I doubt Paul was thinking about the mirror or scale when he wrote this, he is acknowledging a reality that I’d be wise to take to heart. This First Century male who knew nothing of American culture or female body image pressure understood my struggle because he recognized the fact that we are all trapped in imperfect, broken bodies. And these bodies serve as daily reminders of our sinful nature. Creation groans because it’s under a curse. Likewise, my body has been cursed — marked as fallen. Imperfect.

Paul’s perspective sheds a new light my daily battle with my body. No matter how hard I try to beat it into submission, it will always — until the return of Christ — be under the curse of sin. Furthermore, my attempts to reach perfection are only evidence that I am trying on my own, to obtain something that can only come from God. As Paul puts it: “We [believers] wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us … the new bodies he has promised us” (Romans 8:23).

This is a perfect reminder that the real battle is not the one waged in the gym and determined by the scale. The real battle is spiritual, and the battle with my body is simply a far too effective ploy the enemy of God uses to distract me from the fight against, “the spiritual forces of evil.”

As Paul points out, we will all be trapped in these sub-par bodies until the return of Christ. And I think some of the frustration Paul expresses comes from the fact that this means we will have to continue fighting evidence of the curse — sickness, death, physical deformities — until Christ does indeed deliver the new bodies he has promised.

But the good news in Paul’s message is that even while we wait for those new bodies, we are under no obligation to try and obtain perfection. The promise of Christ means that we have been set free from all attempts to prove our worth. We can surrender to the battles that are enslaving us — the battles that are distracting us from our true identity in Christ. Paul states this plainly when he tells us, “you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s spirit when he adopted you as his own children” (Romans 8:15). And that’s the key to surrendering the battle of perfection and finding freedom—recognizing that God has called us his children. When our identity lies in the fact that he has claimed us as his, we no longer feel the need to prove ourselves, because our worth lies in him.

So I’m challenging myself to surrender the battle for perfection. When I look in the mirror I will still see my fallen, broken, imperfect body. But I should also see something else — a child of God. No matter what mirrors or scales say, that’s my true identity, because it’s the one that matters most.  And I’m challenging myself let my imperfections remind me of my sinful nature. Remembering that we live under a curse is powerful, because it thrusts us into the perfect posture to accept God’s grace and it’s when we’re  in this place that he looks at us and calls us his children.

Written by liferenewed

October 13, 2010 at 5:03 am

How God uses suffering

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Or, the blog you’ll never read

The last time I had a blog post ready to publish was a month and a half ago. I’d written about suffering and how God’s view of our struggles is so much more complete than our own. I talked about how we see only a portion of what is really a grand landscape in which God is weaving a masterful story. The post used some great imagery and was rather poetic. But you will never get to read it.

I finished the writing late on a Wednesday night. I was tired, and the perfectionist in me wasn’t confident that the blog was quite ready to publish. Carefully saving the changes in a Word doc, as I do with all my blogs, I decided that I would wait until the following evening and give it one more read-through before sending it live.

On Thursday, I got off of work early. I went to the gym, ran a few errands, and then headed home to pay some bills and post my blog before a meeting that evening. But when I got home, I found my parents surveying the damage caused by burglars, who had broken in through the bedroom window, ransacked the place, and taken anything of value they could get their hands on—including my laptop. The blog that was all but ready to post was gone, along with a handful of other documents that I had yet to create backups for.

It seems ironic when you think about it, that the day after I write a blog on suffering, my house would be broken into. But I think it’s more than irony. I think that there is something bigger going on. Earlier in the year, I memorized James 1, which begins with a theme that is common throughout the epistles:

When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy, for you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow. For when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

The morning after the break-in I was reminded of this verse while blow drying my hair. Later, I asked my dad if he was rejoicing. “Rejoicing?” he asked, as if he wasn’t sure he’d heard me right. None of us had slept well and after five hours of restless tossing and turning, finding joy isn’t usually the first thing on the agenda. “Yes,” I replied. “God is growing us.”

In his sovereignty, God determined that rather than posting a blog about suffering, it was more important that I learn something about it. I’m not trying to suggest that God caused this to happen—that would go against his character—but I do believe that he is using it to make me more like himself. And if that’s the case, it’s ultimately an answer to prayer.

The blog on suffering was prompted by several weeks of watching close friends battle giants. Relationship issues, loneliness, family dysfunctions, and a host of other problems were threatening to steal the joy and even the faith of those I care for. I stated in that blog what I’ve told many of these friends: that though the enemy intends these things for evil, God will use them for good; that even though it may be hard to imagine things changing, countless examples in the Bible testify that we can have faith in a God who is ultimately creating a beautiful picture with our lives.

I also talked about one of my favorite places to walk—a trail around a golf course just a few miles from my home. The path loops down by the water, providing a close-up view of the ever-changing waterfront. Here, the winds seem to overtake the ocean, and the shadow of the Olympic Mountains makes everything seem small and insignificant. Occasionally, a train lumbers past, blurring the scenery with faded yellow boxcars. I talked about how—from this vantage point—it’s easy to focus on just one thing—the vastness of the mountain, the threat of the wind, or the whir of the train cars that block the view of the horizon. But when you loop back up to the top of the hill, you see the entire scene from a completely different perspective. From here, it becomes clear that in overall picture, the mountains aren’t really so large and overwhelming, the storm that pounds the shore will soon be followed by softer waves, and the distraction of the train will only last for a short while. I like to think of this as the view that God has of our lives. He knows that the suffering we are overwhelmed by and the struggles that block our view are only temporary. And what’s more, they are necessary to make the pictures of our lives beautiful and complete.

And this is why he tells us to rejoice. The struggles I’ve been facing in regards to the break-in pale in comparison to those many of my friends are up against. Nevertheless, God has used them to teach me some things about trusting him and about what it means to affirm his goodness.

The worst thing about the break-in was the feeling of violation. Shortly after it happened, I remember thinking that of all the things the burglars took, I missed my sense of security the most. I’d been living with this false idea that doors and windows and locks could keep me safe from outside evils. I’d believed that nothing like this would ever happen to me. When it did, my sense of security was revealed to be false. That in which I placed my trust had failed. As I thought of ways to make my home more secure and realized that nothing I could do would ever give me a 100-percent safety guarantee, I realized there was only one way to find peace. I could live in fear or I could choose to trust God—to find my security in him. The security that he offers is something that no one can take away.

Because I’d just been blogging about God using suffering in our lives for good, one of the questions I was faced with when this happened was whether or not I could trust that God had a plan. And so, almost immediately, I stopped and prayed. I prayed for the robbers, that God would do a work in their hearts, and I prayed that ultimately, God would take something birthed out of ill intent and use it for his purposes. And he has. The most visible evidence of this comes with the relationships we are beginning to build with our neighbors. For the most part, people in our neighborhood have kept to themselves. But this event forced us to reach out, if only to let them know what happened. And that served as a bridge that I hope to cross many more times, a bridge that I believe God can use to allow me to carry his love to those he has placed me in a neighborhood with.

Affirming God’s goodness means recognizing his hand in the midst of things that don’t make sense. Evil never makes sense. Pain never makes sense. And while God does not cause these things, for those who trust him, his hand is always present in the midst of them. Because God is good we can trust that our struggles are just one part of the overall picture he is creating with our lives. And these struggles will allow for a vibrant, more complete landscape. So, I rejoice. I rejoice because God is changing my heart. He’s drawing me into a closer relationship with him and ultimately, preparing me to better respond when even bigger challenges arise in the future.

Written by liferenewed

May 4, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Tears for humanity

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The day you reached that place was the first time you cried
for broken humanity.
You’d shed tears before, but they were tainted.
Innocent. But laced with the poison of perfection—
the belief that kills true love.

You didn’t realize at first that you stood in the place of understanding.
The place of confusion.
Black and white met there—
mingling, dancing.
Trying to keep up, you twirled and spun,
until all you could see was gray—
two colors obscured into one.
Indefinite.

Falling to your knees, you reached out to it—
the only color the world had to offer.
What else could you do?
“After all,” you said.
“This is the world.”

And that’s when you first cried.
When you realized that this dance was the world.
And all of humanity was caught inside.
Even your outreached hands couldn’t stop
black from colliding with white.
Impossible.
Much like perfection—
a belief that was now gone.

In its absence, your tears were raw.
Real.
You caught one and held it in your hand.
There, you could see the reflection of humanity.
The reflection of you.

And the dance went on around everyone.
Black, merging with white;
good, coupling with bad.
And in the middle of it all, humanity suffered—
the world mourned, because no one could stop the dance.

“What can I do for them?”
you screamed at the sky,
wishing the world was what you’d always thought it to be.
Wishing that the place of understanding was not also the place of confusion.

But it was.
And you cried there.
For humanity.
For the fact that you too, couldn’t escape the dance;
for the fact that you had nothing to offer the broken world.

Nothing but tears.
Tears you were ashamed of.
Tears that fell because you didn’t know
how to stop the dance,
and because you understood nothing
but confusion.

They were full of imperfection—
the thing that makes tears pure.
And as you cried, they pooled at your feet.
A well of possibility.
Kneeling down to draw from it, you realized,
you could not stop the dance, but you could give water
to the world.

Written by liferenewed

May 24, 2009 at 9:04 pm

To Religion

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I want to hide you, bury you,
to pretend you don’t exist.

If I deny you, will the rooster crow?

Can I pretend I never knew you—
that I never carried your weight?

So heavy, so fake.

Knowledge?
or only pride?

I thought I agreed with you, loved you,
but I see now that you’ve hurt my friends.
Wounded—so many.
All in the name of peace.

Such deception.
How dare you!
How dare!

Life’s a paradox, couldn’t you see that?
Couldn’t you hold the good and the bad,
the pretty and the ugly?

Aren’t you big enough to handle it all?
Couldn’t you acknowledge that we are all the same—humanity?

No.
Dichotomies. Believing lies.

And now, they cry—
those on the other side.
Those who broke the rules,
who weren’t good enough.

They hate you, with good reason.
You hated first.

If I refuse to marginalize based on your dichotomies,
does that make me like them,
unacceptable and wrong?

Now I see what you’ve done to me.
Why I found it hard to love.
Why I was afraid of those who did not think like me—like you.

Oh religion, what do I do with you now?

When I see the scars that bear your name and the hate you justified, I cry.
I take you in my hands and try to crush you.

Will it do any good?
Can denying your existence undo the pain you caused?

No.

“Where is truth?” I ask.
“When religion is wrong, what is true?”

Crying on my knees with my face to the ground,
I ache.

Confusion.

Then, from the darkness, an answer.
Not calm, but true.

“It is finished.”

I look up and see the cross.
And you—religion—you are nailed there.

You’ve already been destroyed.
The one who gave his life brought a better way.

This is what is true.
But we’ve been living like it’s not.

I pick up the cross.
A weight I can carry.

You may deny me, but I will never deny him.

I will take the cross—and what it really stands for—
to those you marginalized,
those you refused to love.

This is true religion.

Written by liferenewed

November 2, 2008 at 12:37 am

Meaning

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I was not strong enough to hold
the tears.
The heavy, colorless
drops.

Dropping without meaning.

I watched them grow into
a river—
an endless body called
the deep.

Deepening into emptiness.

I stepped into the boat
of illusion,
where the lies produce
the color.

Coloring over significance.

I only pretended
to be safe.
Tossed around by the waves
of blame.

Blaming only myself.

I followed the flow
of tears,
trying to keep the boat
stable.

Stabilizing with fear.

I looked around at the
steep cliffs—
places where the illusion
could fall.

Falling without hope.

I knew pretending would
be lost,
buried in the waves
of desire.

Desiring simple truth.

I reached out my hand and
touched the water—
felt what it is like to be
cold and clear.

Clearing away uncertainty.

I stepped into the river,
and let it hold me,
in its clear, colorless
truth.

Written by liferenewed

August 3, 2008 at 5:36 am