When God Won’t Give Me What I Want {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

Is he really a “good, good Father”? We sing it often enough, and truth be told, I really like singing and talking about the good character that our Abba Father indeed has.

But sometimes it sounds like we’re desperately trying to convince ourselves. Because sometimes we doubt. And no wonder.

Because sometimes we ask for things that we don’t get it. We ask for more support and we’re still blank. We ask for healing for ourselves or someone we love, and they stay sick. Or they die.

We brush up against storms and trauma and we see horrific things and we question him. Where are you? Why this? Why him or her?

Keep reading over at A Life Overseas

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When fear strikes at night, here’s something you can do

by Elizabeth

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I was talking with a friend recently when the subject of fear came up – specifically, nighttime fears. And all of a sudden I remembered the nameless, faceless fears of my early twenties. These were the fears that were irrational and nonspecific, feelings more than words. I didn’t always know what I was afraid of, I just knew I was afraid and couldn’t sleep.

Back then, all I knew to do was to sing the name of Jesus, over and over again, until I fell asleep. I had a few songs on repeat in my head. Later I would sing those same songs over my babies as I rocked them. This practice became so much a part of who I was that I didn’t consciously think about it as a weapon for fighting fear until I was in the middle of this recent conversation.

As we were talking, my friend said, “It’s like singing yourself a lullaby. We sing lullabies over our children, why wouldn’t we sing them over ourselves?” That was such a great description of the practice. So I’m going to share with you my lullabies. They’re calming to me but may not do anything for you. However, I think it’ll give you a starting point to find (or remember) your own evening songs.

The first and main song is one we used to sing in college with our friends. This version sounds fairly close to the way we used to sing together. I used to sing the “Jesus” chorus over and over to myself till I calmed down and fell asleep. There’s something so powerful about lifting your eyes up, away from your problems and even away from petitions for help, and focusing on the name of JESUS.

Here’s another one that helped me, though I can’t find any music for it anywhere. It was written by a lady in our Church of Christ circles who sang in a group called Free Indeed:

“Lord give me peace,
I’m feeling all alone,
calm my spirit,
still my mind,
fill my heart with peace.”

It had a really simple melody that I learned one Saturday morning from my youth minister’s wife. She used it when she needed peace and patience as a mama of young children; I used it at night when I couldn’t sleep.

And this last one might seem kind of strange, so bear with me. In middle school choir we sang a song set to words that had been scrawled on a cellar wall during WWII’s Holocaust:

“I believe in the sun even when it is not shining
And I believe in love even when there’s no one there
And I believe in God, even when He is silent
I believe through any trial, there is always a way

But sometimes in this suffering and hopeless despair
My heart cries for shelter, to know someone’s there
But a voice rises within me, saying ‘Hold on my child,
I’ll give you strength, I’ll give you hope. Just stay a little while.'”

The melody and the lyrics are both haunting, and the song has stayed with me all these years. It gives me comfort – though I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s when I’m in the dark, alone and afraid, that I need its message most. And it represents the undaunted faith I want to pass on to my children.

I was only 12 when I first learned the song, so I couldn’t understand the full soul-depth of its cries, but I remember watching people in the audience weep as we performed it. Now I know why they were crying. They were living in – or had lived in – a world where the sun wasn’t shining, a world where God was silent, a world where it seemed no one was there. Yet they still wanted to believe.

The version below is the closest I could find to the song I learned:

These days, I rely more on the “Doxology” and the “Gloria Patri” for peace and calm. Many years ago in a ladies’ Bible class I listened to one woman talk about how her mentor had taught her to center herself with the “Doxology” when she felt anxious. (Did you catch that? That was a long stream of women passing on wisdom that I’m now passing on to you.) So now in times of stress, I tend to fall back on:

“Praise God from Whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”

And this:

“Glory be to the Father
And to the Son
And to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning
Is now and ever shall be
World without end
Amen, amen.”

If you’ve never sung to yourself at night, I hope this post gives you a new weapon for fighting fear and anxiety. The songs that speak to you in the middle of the night may be different from the ones that speak to me, but I pray you can find your own nighttime lullabies and start singing yourself to sleep.

If you already sing away your nighttime fears, consider blessing someone else by sharing your own songs in the comments.

The Answer to All the Questions {Velvet Ashes}

Elizabeth is over at Velvet Ashes today. . .

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I’ve always been a question asker, a seeker of knowledge. I hunger and thirst for answers, for insight, for understanding. And this question-asking has often served me well, for questions can lead to a greater awareness of God or of His cosmos or of the human creatures He so lovingly tends. Questions can lead to worship and wonder, to praise and appreciation, to connection and intimacy.

My journals are evidence of this incessant question asking; they’re littered with questions. They’re filled with their fair amount of lament too, and plenty of Scriptures-turned-prayer, but always and ever, questions.

You can finish reading here.

Taking Out the Trash {a toolkit for fighting fear}

Here are some practical ways to fight fear that I’ve never shared publicly before. I talked about them during this year’s Velvet Ashes online retreat and wanted to post them here in the hopes that someone out there might find them helpful in their battle against fear. I’ve reprinted all the quotes and Bible verses for easy reference, or you can simply scroll to the bottom for the video testimony. ~Elizabeth

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I used to take my pulse to make sure I was still alive. Because the ability to breathe and move my fingers to my neck weren’t evidence enough of life?? Thankfully by the time I realized why I did that and could verbalize it, I could see the humor in it.

And it was mostly health reasons that made me not want to come to the field in the first place. I’m a recovering hypochondriac [read: I’m still a hypochondriac, but it’s not out of control anymore].

Living here still plays tricks on my mind sometimes, and I have to consciously choose not to follow the rabbit trail my fears are digging. But I’ve got more practice at it now, and someone to keep me accountable (my husband), so it doesn’t take over my daily life the way it used to.

My go-to passage on fighting fear was always Matthew 6:25-34. I even committed it to memory 13 years ago when I was pregnant with my firstborn and finances were uber-tight, and I’ve returned to these words of Jesus again and again throughout the years:

That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

But what really helped me several years ago was reading a book designed to help kids with OCD. It’s called What To Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck, and it teaches kids (or in this case, me) to identify “brain junk,” which is basically the thought patterns we have that are false and hurtful and don’t belong in our mind. After we identify the brain junk (the lies, the fears, the negative self-talk), we can throw it away, literally discarding it from our lives.

For me, following the advice in the OCD book has been a working out of the truths of Hebrews 5:14, which says the mature have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil, and Titus 2:11-12, which talks about the grace of God that teaches us to say “no.”

I had to practice distinguishing the good from the evil (or unhelpful) thought patterns. But I recognize that it is the grace of God that helps me to say no to those irrational thought patterns. And it all came about from a children’s book on OCD.

Another thing that helped tremendously was a section in a book that Cindy Morgan wrote, Barefoot on Barbed Wire, which was all about fighting fear. I “randomly” picked it up at the library when I was pregnant with my 3rd child (when the fears were the most out of control they’d ever been).

“Fear can have so many faces. We can never really escape from the things that cause us to be afraid. For everyone we secure ourselves against, there will be another waiting to take its place. The world is not under our control. So it all comes down to learning to trust God.”

Her book and this quote in particular really convicted me that fighting fear wasn’t about addressing my specific fears and trying to talk myself down from them and over-researching on the internet and reminding myself of the science.

No, my fear was actually something broken inside me. It didn’t come from risk factors on the outside. It came from within. The OCD strategies helped enormously in fighting my fear on a practical level, but I also needed this heart-level truth as well.

I talk about these things (and more) in my 10-minute testimony for Commune, Velvet Ashes’ 2016 online retreat, which is re-published here with permission. If you missed the retreat earlier this spring, Velvet Ashes plans to make the entire thing available again sometime in the future. And if you’ve been blessed through the ministry of Velvet Ashes, consider donating to them here

The Insatiable Hunger of Comparison {a Bible study}

A few months ago I was asked to teach a Bible class on the topic of confidence and insecurity, and I was thinking lately that I’d like to share that Bible study with you all. I really enjoyed preparing for this Bible class, because I gained so much clarity on the life of the disciples and how they were just like us in all our pettiness — and also how much hope we can have for ourselves when we see the way that Jesus transformed them so completely. I didn’t convert my study notes to blog format, but they’re here for you if you’re interested in digging further into the always-relevant topic of comparison and competition. ~Elizabeth

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Intro: Let me throw out some words and see if you’ve ever felt them:

insecure
insecurity
low self-confidence
rejection
rejected
unworthy
Fear of judgement
fear of not measuring up
competition
comparison

Maybe you can think of some others?? Because this is what I want to talk about tonight.

 

Warmup/Reflection Question: Who in your life do you feel you don’t measure up to? Alternatively, who in your life do you compare yourself to and find yourself better than? Think of that person and that relationship as we study these matters tonight.

 

Competition and comparison among the disciples:

  • In Mark 10:35-45, esp vs 37, brothers James and John are competing together against the other disciples. They are wanting more glory, fighting for their worth. And it wasn’t just their problem; when the other found out, they were “indignant.” What does Jesus do? (He will not grant their request.)
  • In Luke 9:46, all the disciples are arguing over who is most important. What does Jesus do? (He corrects their wrong ideas.)
  • In Luke 9:53-54, Samaritans reject Jesus and the disciples, and brothers James and John want to punish them with fire from heaven. Basically they want to reject the Samaritans for the rejection they’ve received. What does Jesus do? (Again, He rebukes them.)
  • In John 21:15-22, Jesus asks Peter a series of questions. How does Peter feel about this conversation? (His feelings are hurt.) How does Jesus respond to Peter’s question in verse 21? (He does not answer the question – says it doesn’t matter — and tells him to “Follow Me.”)

 

There was a lot of competition and comparison among the disciples! Even amongst the 3 most heavily invested-in, privileged, and “most important” disciples (Peter, James, John). So it’s not external success that drives out the fear of not measuring up. Glory and prestige and honor can’t inoculate us against the fear of being not valuable, unimportant, or unworthy. And what we look like on the outside doesn’t necessarily match what we think or feel on the inside. (But wait, because it all changes in the end!)

 

Of course that last example was from the book of John. I used to be so annoyed at the way he called himself “the disciple Jesus loved.” I thought it was arrogant, proud, to assume he was the one Jesus loved, almost implying he was more greatly loved.

And then he went and wrote I John. I could not even handle I John, it was such a heavy burden of shame and guilt and not measuring up, if I were feeling in a particularly non-loving way toward a brother or sister. There was so much in there about needing to love people – and if I didn’t, I was afraid I must not have been a Christian. I couldn’t force myself to love, and it depressed me. So much pressure to be perfect, I felt condemned, without hope.

Then I learned some things that changed everything, and now John is my favorite (well, along with Peter’s passion and impulsiveness). John was the youngest, so less important in the world’s eyes. And he was the only one not to die a martyr’s death, the only one who didn’t have the honor of dying for his Master. In fact, he was more like a babysitter to Jesus’ mother Mary.

To lack honor in the traditional sense, and to still follow Jesus wholeheartedly to the day he died, he had to be absolutely convinced of Jesus’ love for and acceptance of him (which is perhaps where “the disciple Jesus loved” came from). Walking with Jesus for those 3 years must have so utterly changed him from who he was before, that he was convinced to his core that Jesus loved him. And since he was convinced of Jesus’ love, he was freed to love others, and he could go on and write all about loving each other in I John.

He used to be insecure! He used to grasp for his worth. But everything changed because of Jesus. Years and years of following Jesus irrevocably changed him.

 

So I want to re-examine John’s writing in light of a man who knew deep down in his core that Jesus loved him

  • I John 3:1: See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! 
  • I John 3:23: And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. (We BELIEVE, and then we LOVE.)
  • John 6:29: Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (there it is again, BELIEVE)
  • I John 4:16: We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. (We simply trust in his LOVE.)
  • I John 4:18-19: Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. (I used to think that meant I was a bad person if I had fear or didn’t have enough love. Now I know it just means I haven’t fully experienced it yet, and just need more gentle, relaxed time with God. “Not there yet.”)
  • I John 5:1: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. (Again, no pressure here. Simply a timeline: first we believe in Jesus and His love for us. Then we are able to love others.)

 

Tell the Jesus Loves Me This I Sometimes Know story

 

Last year when I was going through all this, we were reading Ephesians 3:14-20 each Sunday at church. I already had a special love for the book of Ephesians because it was the first book of the Bible I read and truly enjoyed when I was coming out of a deep depression nearly 10 years ago (another long story).

I love the words of Paul in Ephesians 1:7-8: He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

And I love Ephesians 2:18: Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

I even grew up hearing a song set to the words of verse 20. But week after week I kept hearing verses 14-19 in a newer, deeper way than ever before:

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

 

Conclusion:

This is what I want us to know: Comparison is a thief. It wants to steal, kill, and destroy us. It never stops wanting more, never stops devouring. God’s LOVE is the weapon that fights back against comparison and competition. God’s love makes us – all of us – worthy. We are all equally and incredibly unbelievably worthy in His sight, because of His love and because of His Son. He made us. He saved us. He forgave us. We’re His. We belong to Him. We are His children. That’s all we need to know, all we need to believe, to defeat comparison, rejection, unworthiness, low self-confidence, and insecurity.

Pray along with Paul in Ephesians 1:17-19:

I ask God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. 

Our first book!

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We’ve compiled over 50 of our short essays into a new book. The book covers topics like transition, TCKs, grief and loss, conflict, marriage on the field, and more. The Kindle version is $1.99 and is available here.

Here’s what Elizabeth has to say about the print edition:

What I like about the paper copy is that it’s in 8 1/2 X 11 inch format, so it has lots of white space and (ahem) margin to make your own notes, to sort of journal through it, as it were. A lot of our posts really are like journal entries of what God is taking us through, so having a hard copy allows you to journal through those issues on your own, too. Hopefully that’s a blessing to someone!

We are ordering a bunch to have with us here in Phnom Penh, so if you’re local and you’d like a hard copy, check back with us in a couple of weeks. Thanks so much for all your support along the way.

all for ONE,
Jonathan T.

 

The Screeching Voice of Lack and the Bounty of Jesus

by Elizabeth

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I’ve been stumbling around for weeks now, gathering my identity from the things other people might say about me. I’ve been scooping it up from my deepest fears of failure, harvesting it from my ripening field of inadequacies. But you know the thing is, I know better than this. I know better than to do this; yet I did it anyway. I listened to the voice of darkness, that screeching voice of lack inside my own head, and I flagrantly disregarded the bounty of Jesus and the abundance of His love.

I didn’t know where to begin again. I knew I’d misplaced my identity, but I was scared to approach God with my missteps of belief and doubt. How could I lose that precious gift of identity in Christ, after searching so long and so hard to find it before?? But one day last week I finally worked up the courage to ask God what He thinks of me. Sincerely expecting a reply, I ventured a quiet and tentative, “God, who do you say I am?” And Jesus, mysterious Son of Man that He is, simply and immediately asked back, “Who do you say I AM?”

“Who do YOU say I AM???”

Not an answer did the Promised One provide; merely, like so many instances in the Gospels, another question. Who do I say Jesus is?? Because maybe that’s where I went wrong, forgetting who Jesus is. Because maybe I don’t have to ask so many questions about myself, if I know the answer to the question about Jesus. And maybe I don’t have to get lost in my own dark, dangerous head, if I can get lost in the majesty and glory of the Creator, of the Redeemer, of the Comforter, of the Trinity.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a legitimate question to ask “Who does God say I am?” But now I know it’s just as legitimate to be asked by Him — as Jesus asked Peter and the other disciples — “Who do you say I AM?” Because maybe, just maybe, that’s the question that can transfer my focus from Self onto Savior. And maybe, just maybe, the moment I answer that question is the moment the clouds will start to lift.

Turns out, the way up out of the pit isn’t to believe in myself better, it’s to believe in Someone Better. For as Peter answered, I believe Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, and HIS identity alone is what holds sway over the clinging darkness.

Linking up with Velvet Ashes