***Originally published on the OneWord365 blog.***

I can generate an opinion about almost anything in two seconds flat. That I actually know something about the subject in question is a mere formality.  While maturity has taught me it’s usually best to think before I speak, I’ll inevitably have the urge to share my perspective with as many people as will listen.

In college, I once walked into class completely unprepared for an important debate. Now, I’m typically the overachieving, over-prepared type. Especially when it comes to academics. So the fact that it wasn’t even on my radar is simply unexplainable. At least I had two other people on my team to help my cause. I’m not even exaggerating when I say I didn’t even know which subject, much less which stance, I was supposed to argue.

My original strategy was to listen to the other side and keep them on the defensive by picking apart each and every word. But, when I found out we had to present our side first, I silently panicked. My only hope was to say exactly what my timid debate partner said first, but in a more convincing way. And miracle upon miracles, we won.

I kid you not, we actually won.

I remember thinking, “I guess I’m really persuasive.”  But, I prefer to think of it more as a “passion for sharing what I believe”. It sounds so much more inspirational that way. Of course, spinning it like that further proves my point.

Still not convinced? During a recent conversation with one of my closest friends, she told me I’m incredibly stubborn. And somehow, I turned it into a compliment.

“Oh,” I said, “that’s mostly a good thing.”

 

Before I try to also convince you that there’s merit to that statement (don’t worry, that will come!), let me first concede the obvious. Being stubborn for it’s own sake is foolish. There are many times I’ve insisted and persisted, to my own detriment. I’m not advocating for stupidity. Sometimes, however, stubbornness pays off:

A stubborn faith and a healthy dose of patience might be just the right elixir for our ailing souls.  And according to Hebrews 6:12, it is the means by which we inherit the very promises of God. 

If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lot of time second-guessing yourself. I’m strong-willed and I’ve been taught to consider my heart as “desperately wicked”. As such, I’ve inadvertently learned to distrust my intuition and at times rationalized away the wisdom for which I was praying. There have been times I’ve known something in the deepest part of my being, but allowed someone to talk me out of what I knew to be true. I’ve betrayed myself, convinced I couldn’t trust my feelings simply because I couldn’t explain them.

I believe we are all fallible creatures, our hearts prone to wander. But I also believe God has replaced our stony hearts with hearts more like his own. And I believe He is willing and able to make us wise. Yes, God will give us wisdom liberally…but there is a catch. We have to “believe and not doubt”, lest we become “double-minded and unstable in all that we do”.

If we sincerely ask for wisdom, we have to believe we will indeed become wiser. So, I am learning to trust my intuition as a form of wisdom, a kind of knowing without actually knowing. 

No, we’re not God. But his Spirit is living in us. In Him, there’s no darkness… only light. Though the secret things belong to the Lord, He’s not the author of confusion.  He delights in every detail of our lives. He’s well able to direct our steps by whatever means he chooses, because his sheep know his voice, even when they don’t know the answers. 

I wish I could tell you I have mastered the practice of discernment. That I’m always confident in my decisions. That I fully trust and understand everything God shares with me. We all know I can’t.

But, I am incredibly stubborn. And God is faithful. So there is hope for us all.

Have you ever known something to be true on a gut level, but ignored it because you couldn’t explain why?

 

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I wonder how often the things we do and the places we go are really for reasons completely different than what we think.  Are we aware of the real purpose behind things? Or do we simply attribute a logical or emotional argument to a particular action and believe that must be the purpose? because it seems to make sense to us?  For instance, we may legitimately feel led to make a certain decision, go somewhere, say something, etc. We may even strongly feel God’s leading in making that decision. But then we take it a step further and try to explain the why part of the decision-why God wants us to do whatever it is we are doing.  Sometimes, I think God gives the vision and a clear purpose to what He wants us to do/why He has called us to do a particular thing.  Other times, I think we are just told to trust that God knows what we don’t and we are called to experience the awe of omniscience.

How often do we freak out because things look totally different than we think they should, or want to take control because it feels like something is interfering with “the plan” …without ever realizing those very things could be the plan? We may think we are doing something because of insert reason here, but in the grand scheme of things, God is prompting us to do it because of His Sovereign Plan, which is not even on our radar.  In a book I am reading, the author said sometimes we experience the “silence of his higher thoughts” because God is doing something so much more than we can ask, think or imagine, that our minds simply cannot comprehend it. That is such an encouraging thought and great reminder that things do not have to make sense to me to be part of God’s plan.

I suppose the struggle is the simple fact that I want to know everything although I do not and cannot. And when I can’t see what/how God is working things out for me, I get tempted to try and snatch back control. I think this is a huge struggle for so many people. My friend Crystal and I were talking about that the other day and she said “We just assume that if things aren’t going to happen the way we want them to, then whatever the alternative is, it’s going to be crappy.” And so we whine and complain and manipulate and try to force our will however we can until we start to see through God’s perspective…until we start exercising our faith…even when we are tempted to believe lies instead.

I find that God often gives me a situation through which I can better understand my foolishness for what it is, recognize His sovereignty and re-adjust my way of thinking.

The Situation: Part of my job is to verify labor rates, hours, etc. to make sure that the contractors are being paid the correct sum of money. One company I work with is particularly stubborn and refuse to do anything that is requested of them.  As I was verifying a request for payment, I  found that they actually deserved to be paid more money than they were requesting, notified them of the change and asked them to resubmit it with my corrections so I could submit it for processing. They refused to do so, despite the fact that they would benefit MORE from doing what I told them to do and would do a disservice to themselves by refusing to admit their mistake and insisting on doing things their way instead of mine. I was trying to help them, but they would not listen to it.  I discussed the absurdity of this with another co-worker, only to see how I AM THAT PERSON when it comes to wanting God to do things MY way.

God tells us His ways our higher than our ways and His thoughts our higher than our thoughts. He tells us He loves us and that He is faithful. He tells us that He is working things out for our good and His glory and that He has a purpose for it. Then he tells us what we need to change  so that we can have the abundant life He came to give us. When we stubbornly cling to our dreams for ourselves and our own ideas for how we think things should look, we deny God the opportunity to give us the BETTER things He has in mind for us…because His plans for us are BETTER than our plans for ourselves. His intent has never been to destroy us but always has our best interest in mind. Always. When we refuse to submit to Him, we are only cheating ourselves.

God, remind me that you know what I don’t.  And may this be an exciting reality, not a fearful one.

Okay, let me just start off by saying that I am obsessed with the book of Hosea. Obsessed.  It’s almost like a game to me now…suggest any topic and just see how I will relate it back to Hosea.  So, I know that many of you are getting really tired of listening to me talk about this, but I cannot help myself…and I don’t think I am going to shut up about it anytime soon. I love this book because it is so crazy, so atypical of our (or at least my) expectations and understanding of God.  And also, I am kind of obsessed with the concept of “the wilderness”- whether it  is good or bad, how it looks, what is the purpose, etc., and Hosea speaks to this as well.

I am talking about this all the time, because I have rarely heard it referenced in the church. Just read the first chapter and you’ll figure out why it isn’t the most popular reading material these days. No, really, read it.

For anyone on a journey into the “wilderness of soul”, Hosea Chapter 2 may be of great value to you. It certainly is for me.  I love this great display of sovereignty and kindness and God luring us to the wilderness. So often my thoughts about the wilderness have served as a cautionary tale of what not to do and how not to respond.  And having focused so much on that, I forgot that there was a purpose in the wilderness—that God designed the wilderness to bring about something real and wonderful in his people: deeper intimacy with the Giver of Life.

In fact, it seems to me that the wilderness is often the means God uses to revive us. When we have been a captive (to the Egyptians [as recorded in Exodus], or to our Lovers [as recorded in Hosea], or to “every weight or sin that easily entraps us” [as evident in our present realities]), we have to be broken down.  We need a new way of thinking, a renewal of our minds. We need to be stripped of all the idols that we cling to, so that we see that “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Romans 11:36).  The wilderness is not a “fun” experience; it is confusing and painful and it’s not what we thought we signed up for.  It requires total dependence on Him for our daily bread, which we are unwilling to do as long as we are allowed to “cling” to the filth we’ve been deceived into thinking is our real sustenance.

It is in helplessness that we find hope.  When we see our own brokenness and insufficiency, we get on our knees…and are finally in a position of power. When we rely upon God, the valley of Achor (trouble) becomes a door of hope. When we begin to know God, and depend on Him, and know that he is the sustainer, provider, deliverer… well then the other things no longer have power over us. With God, all things are possible.

He knows it does us no good to live as captives in the Promised Land.  He knows we can’t experience all He has for us if we can only see him as master. He wants us to experience Him and the richness of His love. He wants us to know Him as husband.  It’s a totally different kind of relationship. Love is deeply personal.  He wants us to know Him.

We just don’t usually respond in a manner pleasing to Him.  We can’t figure out how we ended up in the wilderness when we thought we were following Him.  Or we know why we are in the wilderness, but we don’t like it.  Or we focus on the fact that we don’t like the wilderness and never see God there with us. We end up staying  longer than what had been intended for us. We get caught up in our cycle of sin, instead of trusting that He knows what He is doing.  And despite the many things we do, what we fail to do is acknowledge Him.  He makes a WAY in the wilderness, and STREAMS in the wasteland. And He is GOOD, even when circumstance is not.

Here is a song I wrote in response to what I’ve been learning in Hosea:
vs. 1
Is there purpose to the wilderness?
Is there reason for these chains?
Are you leading me so tenderly to call upon your name?
Are you giving me a new song?
Is this pain your loving grace?
Are you saying I have seen your hand,
It’s time to seek your face?
Chorus
Hem me in
And lead with chords of kindness
Hem me in
And lead with ties of love
Hem me in
In you all things are held together
Hem me in
Hem me in
Hem me in
vs. 2
As you lead me to the resting place
As you make a door of hope
As the water fills the wasteland now, bringing with it sign of growth
You made the way that I may walk in it
By the Spirit that you gave
Restore this heart bound in captivity
Through me glorify your name

Every so often, I get a feeling in my whole being and I know God is telling me to do something, something I really don’t want to do. And I mean REALLY DO NOT want to do. I know it’s God because no one else would tell me these things, and it is always in relation to my faith and obedience.

And it can be over anything: making something right with someone else, clarifying an issue, approaching a stranger and asking if I can pray for them, etc. In fact, it is often something completely stupid in my opinion, something so insignificant that I can easily justify why I should not have to do it.

It’s usually something so insignificant that I can easily justify why I should not have to do it. Except, I am overwhelmed by this unrelenting, all-consuming feeling…a feeling so intense that it conjures up an immediate and emphatic response:

“OH NO I’M NOT. I ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, DO THAT. NOT GONNA DO IT.”

And that’s when I know, I am absolutely going to do that thing.

Not because I change my mind about the matter but because no matter how hard I try to make excuses or bargain about it, I have NO peace whatsoever until I do it. NONE. I can’t think stop thinking about it. I can’t concentrate on anything else and it distracts me wholly until I do it.

In those moments of my rebellion, I am strangely comforted that the Spirit will not let me get away with ignoring his prompting. Though I fight God’s direction, He presses down on me so hard that I simply have to deal with whatever He has put in front of me. In those moments, He confirms that it’s never really been about the thing He is asking me do. That is only secondary. His focus is, and always will be, on the heart of the matter…on my heart in the matter.

And it’s not that the thing is all-together unimportant. It’s not. But often, the person I have to interact with just doesn’t care about it and I often feel like an absolute fool. Still, it is a matter of principle. It’s about obeying God, and doing what He says, regardless of how ridiculous or unimportant I think it may be. And yet, however insignificant the thing is, if I choose to disobey God over such a trivial matter, I am choosing to allow sin to interfere with my ability to hear from God and be in relationship with him.

How often to we pray that God will give us wisdom and direction, and then when He prompts us to do something, we scream NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!?

How often are we really just asking God to stroke our egos and make the plans we have for ourselves come to pass?

When we ask God to direct us, we can’t restrict His guidance to certain pre-approved aspects of our lives where we are willing to relinquish our control but keep Him out of the parts of our lives that we still want entirely to ourselves. As I write that I am reminded of a sermon by J.R. Briggs about “the 5%”, in which he said that many believers know we must surrender our lives to God, so we surrender about 95%…and keep the left over 5% to ourselves. But, God is not interested in having control of most of our lives; He is interested in having control of our entire lives – so He goes after the 5% – our private stash of “I’ll-take-care-of-that-myself- issues ” and starts to pry them away from us.

Because, after all, it’s all about our hearts. Let’s face it – the things that we are willing to give up without struggle, are often things that we simply don’t care about all that much. It’s a lot harder to give up the things we like, the things we care deeply about, the things upon which we have set our expectations, the things that make us scream, “Oh, no…you can’t ask me to do THAT”, when God starts messing with them.

And that is why the heart is of utmost importance. God knows, if He has our hearts, He has our whole being. That is why He tells us “above all else, guard our heart, for it is the wellspring of life” . And it’s why religion – as a list of do’s and don’ts, devoid of a personal relationship with Jesus (heart condition) – just will not work. But, when we let Him mess with us…it gets complicated. It’s often painful. But it will infinitely rewarding. He has promised us that much. So, after all my fighting and defiance and justifying, I cling to that promise – that He will not ever ask me to do anything that does not bring about ultimate good for the sake of my own heart and His kingdom.

I recently read through the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and there is a reoccurring theme:  fear the Lord.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”(Proverbs 1:7)

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Too often, our fear of man is far greater than our fear of God. It’s one of the reasons disobedience is so enticing. Disobedience seeks to preserve our selfishness and our pride, so that we will be able to do what we want and maybe even appear Godly while doing it. But, obeying God – now, that could make us uncomfortable. That could make us look like a fool in the eyes of man, especially if He asks us to do something that insults our pride and makes us feel like a total nutcase. In my moments of contemplative disobedience, the following parable frequently comes to mind, and it’s a hard one to run away from at that:

A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you,the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. Matthew 21: 28b-32

So, which one are you? Which one am I? I guess we will wrestle with this question for the rest of our lives. Let us take comfort in the fact that God is still pleased with those of us who wrestle with Him and yet ultimately obey than with those who are merely agreeable liars. Thank the Lord, because His love for us is so great that He gives us the grace to actually obey Him. And thank the Lord, because He offers the truly repentant heart forgiveness for the many times we have and will fail Him.

It’s time to start thinking about what we’re thinking about. To that end, it’s also time to start thinking about how our friends influence the way we think, and consequently the way we act.  Now, you’ve probably heard these warnings before, if only from your mother in the prime of adolescence. But mothers, man. They’re smart. And sometimes we need to remember the advice they gave us at thirteen is just as much applicable at eighteen, or twenty-seven…or forty-one. That’s the way it is with the truly valuable life lessons; they don’t expire with age.
But as we get older, life gets busier and often more complicated. It’s easy to get caught up in what we’re doing, or what we have to do, or what we should have done yesterday but never actually did.  Amid all of our responsibilities and daily routines, we become vulnerable to the frenzied pace of life so common in our world today. And even if our schedules are filled with wonderful things, we can forget to pay attention to the basics.  In our efforts to be productive and accomplish as much as possible, we can skip over times of stillness and personal reflection. We can even stop choosing our friends and become friends with people who are just, well…around.
In my experience, we tend to value productivity over stillness. We’ll gravitate towards somebody instead of waiting for the right somebody. But if we really want to be at our best, we need to build in time for both dreaming and doing. We need communities of friends willing to both challenge and encourage. We need to ask questions, not only about what we want to accomplish…but why it would be meaningful for us. We can’t allow ourselves to become so focused on the exterior things in our lives, that we become passive in our internal lives. 
We have to make space to really listen to what we’re telling ourselves. To observe the kind of energy those around us invite into our lives. And we may even need to start a detoxification program if we find harmful, self-defeating attitudes dominating our psyches.  After all, what we say to ourselves matters. Who we allow into the inner circle of our lives matters. At thirty, I have never been more strikingly aware of this truth and it’s power to either help or hinder.
It seems to me, a large part of our success in this area is hinged upon something so elementary it is often overlooked. Which is why, every now and then, it’s good to remember what our mothers’ taught back in the day.
Think about what you’re thinking about.
Choose your friends carefully.
Pay attention.
**Originally published here.**

Success and the Real World

During my college years, I lived in a microcosm of academic prosperity.  I didn’t have any money and I certainly didn’t have any time to sleep, but I felt accomplished.  Back then, I lived on excessive amounts of caffeine and will-power, meticulously following my step-by-step formula for success. Then I graduated and discovered the world was a lot harder to conquer than I had ever anticipated, and my world slowly started to unravel.

Graduation

In all honesty, my world started falling apart much earlier than that, but I hardly had time to notice.  Though I managed to suppress most internal rumblings, my body retaliated through panic attacks, persistent bouts of insomnia, occasional outbursts of anger and the ever unpredictable eruption of tears.  Little things, really.

Or so I thought. It’s hard to believe that you can be oblivious to something that’s going on inside yourself. It’s even harder to believe when you think you know everything.  But I’ve discovered that sooner or later, things have a way of leaking out, even without our consent.

The inevitable moment arrived. I said goodbye to my friends, packed up my things and reluctantly started a new chapter.  Amid all the goodbyes, what I didn’t know then was that I was also saying goodbye to the success I’d so easily taken for granted and so narrowly defined.

It’s not hard to succeed in college if you’re willing to work, because colleges are designed with your success in mind. If you don’t have a car, it doesn’t matter.  If you want to hang out with friends, simply walk down the hall.  Want an intellectual conversation and you only have to wait until the start of your next class.  For the hungry, there’s a cafeteria.  The bored, a calendar of events.  For the power-hungry, there are freshmen. It’s a world unto itself and it’s hard to transition into a different kind of life after it ends.

It’s silly, but I can honestly say I never seriously envisioned life after college. Professionally, I wanted to be a singer but everyone told me that was more of a hobby than an occupation.  When it came time to pick a major, I said I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I really meant I didn’t know if it was possible to do what I wanted to do. Though I eventually majored in Communication and thoroughly enjoyed my coursework, upon completion of my degree, I walked away from a “known” future of papers and tests and walked right into “the real world”.

Turns out, the “real world” is a beast.  But it’s also beautiful in its own way. It’s been seven years since then. Years of struggling, praying, laughing and celebrating my way right into this present moment.  And I’ve learned am learning that success is less about what we do and more about how we do things.

So wherever you are in your journey, be kind and courageous. Love deeply. And please, laugh as much as possible.

 

*This article was originally published on ryaneller.com

 

I read the following excerpt by Frank Viola earlier today on Rachel Held Evans‘ blog.  And quite simply, it was too good not to share. The part that resonates with me most is when he talks about the women staying at the foot of the cross, because

“To watch a man die a hideous and horrible death is something that goes against every fiber that lives inside of a woman. Yet they would not leave Him. They stayed the entire time.”

In an old journal of mine, I have a less eloquent version of the above observation. The image just wrecked me in the most beautiful way. To all the ladies, I hope you are as blessed by this post as I have been. I pray that it reminds you of how deeply you are loved and valued…

 

Frank Viola: “God’s View of a Woman”

Consider this. When God decided to make His entrance upon this planet, He visited a woman. He chose a woman to bring forth the Eternal Son, the Messiah—the Anointed One for whom Israel had waited thousands of years. The life of God was first placed in the womb of a woman before it got to you and to me. And God was not ashamed.

Sisters in Christ, this is your Lord’s view of a woman. Take your high place.

But that’s not all. As Jesus ministered, He ripped down all social conventions that were pitted against women. On one occasion, He rose to the defense of a woman caught in adultery. He became her attorney and saved her life. And God was not ashamed.

Jesus was noted for palling around with sinners. He supped with prostitutes and tax collectors. We are told in John Chapter 4 that He met a woman, and He did something that shocked the disciples. He talked to her in public. And He was not ashamed…

But that’s not all. Jesus Christ had a custom of using women in His parables and making them heroes. He talked about the woman who searched and found her lost coin. He spoke of the woman who was unrelenting in the presence of the unjust judge who honored her for her persistence. He spoke of the widow who dropped all the money she had into the temple treasury and praised her for doing so. And He was not ashamed.

Sisters, take your high place. This is God’s view of a woman.

Once Jesus was dining with a self-righteous Pharisee. And in walked a woman. But this was not just any woman. She was a woman of the streets—a prostitute. Upon seeing the Lord, she dropped down to her knees and did something unsettling.
In the presence of Pharisees, this woman unbound her hair and poured costly perfume upon the feet of our Lord. This unclean woman touched Jesus Christ in public. She wept, washed His feet with her tears, and dried them with her hair. This scandalous and improper act mortified the self-righteous Pharisees. At that moment, these religious leaders lost all respect for Jesus and doubted that He was a true prophet. But your Lord was not ashamed.

Sisters, take your high place. This is God’s view of a woman.

But that’s not all. Your Lord allowed an unclean woman to touch the hem of His garment, and He was not ashamed. In fact, He praised her for it. He also gave a Canaanite woman who was viewed as a dog in the eyes of Israel one of the highest compliments He ever gave anyone. He also healed her daughter, and He was not ashamed.

In the Lord’s last hours on this earth, He stayed in a small village called Bethany. It was there that He would spend His last days before He gave His life on Calvary. In Bethany, two women whom Jesus loved had their home: Mary and Martha. They were His friends, and they received Him. And He was not ashamed.

Sisters, take your high place. This is God’s view of a woman.

When Luke writes his Gospel, he refers to the twelve disciples with the shorthand phrase the Twelve. The Twelve lived with the Lord for three-and-a-half years. And they followed Him everywhere. But Jesus also had a group of female disciples. Luke also used a shorthand phrase to refer to them. He simply called them the Women (Luke 23:55; Acts 1:14). Interestingly, Luke used this phrase the same way that he used the Twelve.  They were the Lord’s disciples also—the female counterpart to the Twelve. The Women followed the Lord wherever He went, and they tended to His needs. And He was not ashamed.

Sisters, take your high place. This is God’s view of a woman.

But there’s more. The greatest disciples of Jesus Christ were not the Twelve. They were the Women. The reason? Because they were more faithful. When Jesus Christ was taken to die, the Twelve fled. They checked out. They said, “See ya!” But the Women stayed with Him. They didn’t leave. They followed Him up to Calvary to do what they had been doing all along—comforting Him, taking care of Him, tending to His needs. And they watched Him undergo a bloody, gory crucifixion that lasted six long hours. To watch a man die a hideous and horrible death is something that goes against every fiber that lives inside of a woman. Yet they would not leave Him. They stayed the entire time. And He was not ashamed.

Sisters, take your high place. This is God’s view of a woman.

Following His death, it was the Women who first visited His burial. Even after His death, they were still following Him. They were still taking care of Him. And when He rose again from the dead, the first faces He met—the first eyes that were laid upon Him—were the eyes of women. And it was to them that He gave the privilege of announcing His resurrection, even though their testimony wouldn’t hold up in court. And He was not ashamed.

Sisters, take your high place. This is God’s view of a woman.

On the day of Pentecost, the Women were present in the upper room, waiting for Him to return, along with the Twelve.
Unlike His male disciples, the Women never left Him. They followed Him to the end. Their passion for and dedication to Jesus outshined that of the men. And God was not ashamed.

Throughout the Lord’s life, it was the Women who tended to His physical needs. It was the Women who looked after Him. It was the Women who supported Him financially during His earthly ministry (Luke 8:1-3). It was the Women who cared for Him up until the bitter end as well as the glorious climax. Not the men. The Women were simply indispensable to Him. And He was not ashamed.

But beyond all these wonderful things that the Lord did in showing us how beautiful women are in His eyes, He did something else. He chose you—a woman to depict that which He came to earth to die for—His very Bride. And He is not ashamed.

Sisters, rise to your high place. This is God’s view of a woman.

Brothers, honor your sisters in the Kingdom of God. For God honors them. When our Lord pulled Eve out of Adam, He didn’t take her out of his feet below him. Nor did He take her out from his head above him. He took her out of his side.

Sisters, you are fellow heirs in the Kingdom of God. You are fellow priests in the church of God. You are honored. You are cherished. You are valuable. You are needed.

You are His friends, His followers, His daughters, yea, His own kin.

So sisters, take your high place . . . this is God’s view of you.

Father,

You are the God of more than enough. The God who sees me. The God who sees everyone. You never run out of resources and you withhold no good thing from those you love. And yet, there are so many children all over the world who are seemingly alone, forgotten, hopeless. And it doesn’t make sense to me.

I don’t understand how this is happening, even as I write. I don’t know how You can know the severe need, on a level I could not even understand, and not intervene in every single situation. I don’t understand  how can you see their suffering, and well…let them keep suffering…when you could easily do something to prevent it. And right when I start to get angry and question just what kind of a God you are, that you could let this continue, I feel a stirring in heart to stop…and listen to the questions you’re asking of me.

Shouldn’t I be a physical representation of you, Lord ?  Shouldn’t I care about the things you care about?  How can  I know about these needs and not intervene? How can I see the suffering and let them keep suffering when I could easily prevent it? How can I care so little about your children?

It’s so easy for me to be preoccupied with myself. My world, my need, my anything. And Lord, you know me. You know I am as desperate for your presence and healing work in my life as they are in their lives. You know how often I’ve felt alone, forgotten, hopeless. You know I have nothing to give except what you’ve first given me. And you’ve given me everything.

I want to give out of that fullness and not out of lack. You know I don’t have enough strength. You know how overwhelmed I get when I face even the smallest of needs. But you also promise that your strength is made perfect in my weakness. And you have not asked me to do your job…you have simply given me the opportunity to join in the work you are already doing.

Pour into me, so that I have something worthy to pour out. Give me wisdom and guidance in my giving, that I would be responsive to your leading.  Remind me of all the potential encased inside of a single seed and how you delight in the uniqueness and variety of each one. Remind me that you’ve made me to reflect something of about you in a way that no one else can, and then…give me the courage to be creative with how I use it.

Let my actions be motivated by love and gratitude. Thank you for your grace, for your continual prodding and pruning in my life. Use me in ways I don’t even think are possible. I pray that you will even use this prayer, this blog and advance your kingdom. I pray that you will use our words and the collaborative effort of the compassion bloggers as a catalyst to change the lives of 3,108 children this month. I pray that you will remind the lonely they are not alone. Remind those who feel forgotten, that they are known. Remind those who feel hopeless, that “hope’s name is Jesus”.

If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.

About a year ago, I was having one of my typical nerdy conversations with my friend Jordan. I love her mind. Per our usual, we were discussing books that we found insightful and she mentioned “StrengthsFinder”. The book discusses 34 common talents and offers an online component to assess a person’s top five strengths.

And that was all I needed to hear.  I went out and bought the book the next day.  (On a side note, the fourth strength on my list is called “input”.  That I immediately went out and bought the book demonstrates this strength and confirms the assessment is legit. Hah.) I was so excited to see what my top strength would be and thought it had to be a mistake when I learned my primary talent was empathy.

So lame!

I totally thought the assessment was going to reveal something cooler and so I initially reacted in disappointment. Like most of us, I failed to appreciate this quality in myself. I thought it was a stupid gift, second only to the gift of singleness.  Perhaps to some degree that is because my gift has felt more like a liability at times…as though sensitivity is something one needs to overcome and not embrace. Consequently, I didn’t really recognize the value of what has been entrusted to me.

But, the more I learn, the more intrigued…and the more thankful I become. I no longer apologize for my emotions…because I am no longer sorry that I have the ability to feel.Yes, I am overwhelmed by my feelings at times. Sometimes it’s awesome and sometimes it means feeling the deep angst of pain, even when it technically belongs to someone else. But it is truly a gift. And I am finally ready to receive and enjoy it.

 

 (Disclaimer:   I believe we have a responsibility to steward our gifts well, and as such recognize that praying for and operating in wisdom/discernment as we do so is imperative. I’m not advocating for letting our emotions dictate our decisions, based solely on the fact that we do or do not feel a particular way.)

 

According to research conducted by my new favorite person whom I haven’t actually met (Brene Brown), empathy is practically an emotional super-food.  To my surprise, it’s actually a very useful gift.  Empathy is a fundamental aspect to every healthy relationship, because it’s a connecting emotion…it seeks understanding.  To echo Pastor Jamie George, “Empathy is the ability to project oneself into someone else’s narrative and see the world they see it. If you have a connection problem, you have an empathy problem…which probably means you have a listening problem.”

When we are willing to embrace the discomfort of vulnerability, we start to create an environment where it is safe to be our true selves, flawed though they may be. Without it, we will never achieve the intimacy we desire because “we can only be loved to the degree that we are known” (John Ortberg).  It takes courage to actually look at our own messes and even more courage to share our stories with other people.  And yet, our stories are gifts to each other because “each one of our stories is connected to an even greater love story of redemption” (Jamie George).  And so often, the courage to tell our own story is the very thing that gives other people permission to share their stories too.

This whole post is reminiscent of a sermon I heard about the significance of remembering and how it is linked to empathy.  In Exodus 3:7, we see that remembering is not a passive activity.  When God remembered his people and how they were suffering, it signified that he was about to act on their behalf. His redemptive plan was about to be enacted.  In other words, when God sees the afflictions of his people, his “eye affects [his] heart” (Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible).

I wonder what our lives would look like if our remembering someone’s affliction actually meant we were going to do something about it. Hebrews 13:1-3 urges us to do this very thing:

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

In other words, the purpose of our remembering is so that we will empathize. If we are empathetic to those in need, we become connected to each other. We become more invested in each other’s lives and more available to play a bigger part in the redemptive story God is telling with our lives.

 

We have so many opportunities to remember and empathize in our broken and afflicted world. This month, I will be using my blog to partner with Compassion International and share the stories of so many hurting children that need our help.  Please consider checking out their Sponsor a Child page and praying over the children. Our goal this month is to remember 3,108 children and encourage those who are willing and able to become a sponsor.

This is simply one opportunity to climb into someone else’s story and feel what they feel.  I’m not trying to coerce you into anything. I’m just inviting to you listen to someone else’s story and be available, should God prompt you to help in this particular way.  It is my prayer that our eyes would affect our hearts and that we would have the courage to do something when it does.

Maybe that will look like sponsoring a compassion child. Maybe it will look like a hug for a friend who has been going through a really difficult time. Or maybe it will look like courage to finally tell your story and believe that God will use it someway, somehow.  I don’t know what your specific assignment will look like, but I know there is no shortage of opportunities. Lord, help us remember, so that we will empathize and imitate you.

Once upon a time, the embodiment of love, channeled empathy into physical form.  (Jamie George)

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

-Hebrews 4:15-16

Give us ears to hear and enlarge our hearts as we listen.

I’m a fantastic crier.  Seriously, I am. Ask anyone who knows me and they will confirm this without hesitation. And, as a friend pointed out to me a while back, I’m not just a crier.  I’m a specific breed of crier, referred to henceforth as a “cry-giggler”. That’s right. I cry, and then I laugh at myself while I am still crying.  Happens almost every single time. True story.

Unfortunately, I spent a large portion of my life feeling embarrassed by this part of myself. Not the giggly part, just the crying. Often, I felt betrayed by my tears as they exposed a deep well of sensitivity within me instead of protecting the “you can’t get to me” image I found so much more attractive. Time and again, I discovered that eventually, things have a way of leaking out, even without my consent.

Still, as I observed the world around me, I couldn’t figure out what was “wrong” with me and why I responded so differently in so many situations. Most people I knew seemed to be relatively unaffected by the very things that I found overwhelming, things I just couldn’t stop thinking about. I was especially confused when I’d find myself crying about something or someone I didn’t even know.

I’m sure you want to know where I am going with this. Well, it turns out there is a clinical term for what I’ve been experiencing all these years.

It’s called empathy.

I’ve learned a lot about empathy since my initial diagnosis. Empathy is a condition that grows out of an enlarged heart. It is first contracted when a mysterious agent enters the body and attaches itself permanently to the heart.  Once infected, it continues to swell exponentially. As the heart increases in size, small nodules start to develop and over time,a percentage of them turn into empathy.

In most cases, empathic symptoms are easily identifiable. However, studies have shown an increasing number of cases where the symptoms of those affected have remained dormant for years, only to surface much later in life. Empathy is characterized by “experiencing the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another”. It’s been known to affect men and women equally, as well as all races, ethnic groups, and socioeconomic classes.

A heritable condition, it often runs in families and researchers believe it is passed down by the Father’s genes. The most prolific case of empathy was identified in a man of Jewish decent around the year AD 33. His case was unprecedented, so severe in nature that it was impossible to discern his physical body apart from the mysterious agent that lived inside of him. In an attempt to prevent the epidemic from spreading, he was rejected and eventually put to death.

However successful the means to eradicate this condition seemed at the time, it was ultimately unsuccessful and a new drug-resistant strain emerged. New cases are reported daily although we cannot yet determine the number of infected people, due to the mysterious nature of its origin.

To be continued…