The Past: That Train has Left the Station

looking back to good times train

The past can be a pesky business. Thinking about it can lead to 2 trains of thought. One path revisits the train wrecks we’ve made of certain situations. The other track leads to a sort of longing…a wishing we could go back to how things were when life was ‘good’. Both past-trains can render us stuck and unable to move forward in life.

train wreck of the past

Train Wreck

Getting held up because of a Train Wreck in our past can immobilize us due to frequent stops at negative stations like guilt, shame or unforgiveness. We severely limit ourselves from the fullness of our potential when we allow past mistakes to define us. Forgiveness for self and forgiveness for others is a journey. However, we need to be aware that there are ways we can bring it to a grinding halt. If we don’t consistently choose forgiveness for ourselves and for others, the stench of the past robs our ability to breathe the air of today.

we all make mistakes_train

The motivation to forgive is grounded in this teaching from Christ: For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14-15). I take that to cover not only forgiving others, but also forgiving ourselves. If the God of the Universe forgives us (and He does when we come clean with Him), then who are we to not forgive ourselves?

It’s almost as though we want God to say over and over that He forgives us…to speak into our insecurity. But God says in Psalm 103:12 that as soon as we have dealt with the issue, He forgives and sees us as clean. When He forgives us, it’s not partial. No matter how many times we beat ourselves up, God gave all forgiveness in the first conversation. It may feel too good to be true; that is the amazing grace of God. Accepting it is the way forward from a train wreck of a situation.

looking back to good times train

Good Times Train

The hard times in our past are not the only things that can derail us. Nostalgia can become a sub-conscience trap. We remember how happy we felt once upon a time and wish we could ‘get back’ to how things were. God, however, never calls us backward. He leads us to grow and move forward on our journey. I think of Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:12-26). The path ahead of her seemed uncomfortable and scary, so she wasted herself—literally—on looking back and longing for what was.

It’s not that our good times weren’t great; it’s that they belong to the past.

We can even do this in our relationship with God. We may:

  • remember times when we were ‘on fire’ for God, but now feel flat
  • recall seasons when we couldn’t get enough of studying the Bible, but now feel like it’s something we should do
  • reflect to periods when all we wanted was to do things God’s way, but now it’s a struggle to keep on track

…and we wish we could recapture those days. But God doesn’t. Every season of our life is in place so we will experience God in a new way—not just the ways we’ve already enjoyed with Him.

full steam ahead to now train

The NOW Train

To move forward, it’s time to hop on the NOW Train. It’s a bit of an aggressive ride, but it goes to refreshing places. Here’s your ticket to NOW:

  • Na na na na…hey hey hey…goodbye.
    Will you let the past be in the past? The space that’s been occupied with ‘what was’ now becomes available for ‘what’s next’.
  • Oh for the love of all that is holy — ease up on yourself.
    So you messed up. Ok. Welcome to being human. Even if others want to rub your nose in it, God doesn’t.
  • What can you do to experience God in a new way?
    I asked someone the other day, “What’s your favorite color?” When she said it was red, I said, “Every time you see something red, let that trigger you to talk to God, think about Him, praise Him…” It’s not always about ‘doing’ more; it’s about soaking in His presence.
A Train Blessing

As you pull away—full steam ahead–from the station of the past, here’s my prayer for you:

May you recall train wreck times as powerful moments of learning and redirection.
May the good times be precious memories allowed to remain in their time and space.
May NOW be your moment to embrace the present and His presence.

A Bruised Heart Full of Sprap

sprap = spam + crap

Bruised Heart

My heart is bruised. It has a specific cause rooted in the actions of others. I thought I was fine; turns out, I’m not. It hit me as I stood in a church to sing:
      Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
      Holy, holy is He
      Sing a new song to Him who sits on
      Heaven’s mercy seat
In the past when I sang this, I could always recall a new work I’d seen God do that week. I’d think about it and effortlessly praise Him with a ‘new song’—but not this time. I felt flat and disconnected. I couldn’t sing…but the song kept going. I couldn’t sing, so I prayed. “Lord, all I can tell You is I’m aware my heart is bruised and I know it has nothing to do with You. I love You, but the hurt is making me numb.” I’m not sure what I expected God to do…but before I tell you what He did, let me unpack a little about a bruised heart.

“You’ve Got Bruised Mail”

See if you can relate to this: You’re going about your life. Over time, you become aware that truckloads of junk you know you didn’t ask for are getting deposited into your life-inbox. Feeling strong, you scroll through, select and ‘delete’ that junk. You don’t open it or look at it. Out of sight, out of mind, you think you’ve cleared it away. The next day, however, the crap reappears looking exactly the same. With irritation, you take a peek, but then quickly close and trash it all.  However, it won’t go away. Crazy as this sounds, the following day more junk just like it starts to infect your mind/heart-inbox because you made the fatal error of looking at something in that sprap.

SPRAP - Spam + Crap = unwanted junk deposited into our life-inbox

facepalm

You looked at the sprap, and now you can’t shake it. The ridiculously ugly content has gotten into your head and has bruised your heart.

 

What the sprap bruised your heart?

I know the nature of my sprap. Is yours within this list?

*Degrading words
*Family dysfunction
*Abandonment
*Being overlooked
*Made to feel inferior
*Betrayal
*Broken trust
*Abuse of power
*Death
*Addiction
*Deception
*Rejection
*Prayer that seems unanswered
*Low self-worth
*Your pride alienated others

The list of human-to-human ugliness is unending.  While it’s awful, God has the power to bring something beautiful from it. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph—who could put a check mark by most of the hurts on the above list–saw God’s mighty hand at the end of many bruising years. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Our bruises, too, have the power to help others if we’ll deal with our sprap and let the Holy Spirit begin the healing.

Healing a bruised heart
Some hearts are more than bruised, they’re broken. Healing may be a long process and require professional help before the pain can connect to God’s promised good.  Psalm 147:3 is a sustaining hope for the journey, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” My heart is saddened thinking of how uphill that path is for the deeply wounded because I’ve been there, too. What I can tell you is that those I’ve known who’ve opened their sprap and done the hard work to heal are some of the most interesting and dimensionally profound people I’ve met. Their ‘new songs’ are powerfully moving.

For me, God began healing this bruise on my heart in that worship service. When I couldn’t connect to singing a new song because my bruised heart was too numb, the Holy Spirit met me there. As the music played, I suddenly had this understanding: You are singing Me a new song. This is the first time you’ve sang to Me with a bruised heart. This is a new song and now you know what it sounds like. I receive your praise in this new song. That assurance was the beginning of my bruise fading; but it’s just the beginning.

His love gives us courage to keep moving toward healing. That’s my new song. I’m praying for all who read this—whether bruised, broken or healed. May a new song rise up and may that song point people to God’s love.

 

Loving God with your mind when you feel like you’ve lost it

In bible college, I was assigned J.P. Moreland’s Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. In it:

Moreland explains the importance of using your mind not only to win others to Christ but also to experience personal spiritual growth. Moreland challenges you to use logic and reason to further God’s kingdom through evangelism, apologetics, worship, and vocation.

Moreland highlighted that Western Christians are often not respected intellectually because they’ve pursued the experience of God and disregarded pursuing the knowledge of God. I was inspired by the book and its invitation to engage my mind as an act of worship.

That said, this week I’ve been looking at Matthew 22:37 in a new light.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.

As a pastor, mom, wife, sister and friend, I’ve walked with people as they’ve experienced brokenness that sent their hearts and souls reeling from the pain. These soul-shattering faithquakes often release anger and blame—many times toward God. Even more concerning, faithquakes can open cell doors to a numbness prison where self-sentenced, devastated people lock up to escape the pain.

During these dark seasons, many people report they cannot feel God. In the grip of overwhelming hurt, they can mistake that lack of feeling as a sign. Is God not there? Has He gone away as a form of punishment? How does all this relate to Matthew 22:37?

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.

When the parts of us that are made to feel and experience God—our heart and soul—are locked down or consumed by our situation, God offers a way to keep hope strong through loving Him with our minds. We can do this by:

  • Remembering how He has transformed our reality. Former situations in our lives may not have anything to do with what we’re currently experiencing. However, using our mind to recall how God showed up in the past is basically saying, “God, I don’t know how You’re going to work in this current mess, I just know that You’re going to” (1 Samuel 17:37). It isn’t a magic prayer that will immediately change things. It will, however, allow us to stay connected as we’re navigating the mess. Loving God with our mind in this way prevents the spiritual attacks of doubt and anger from getting a foothold when our circumstances are the most intense.
  • Using words of faith not fear. Words matter (for more on this in a former post, click here).When we speak the truth that we know God is working (Philippians 1:6)…that God has a plan (Jeremiah 29:11)…that He will work this mess for something good (Romans 8:28)…we are loving God with our mind. Even though we have no idea how He will do it, even though our heart hurts and it isn’t well with our soul, loving God with our mind means speaking words of truth anyway. The alternative is to speak words of fear and freaking-out which will block our minds from receiving God’s creative way forward. Here’s a powerful truth: Our words become our world.
  • Trusting past the pain. We will most likely not understand why God is allowing so much pain. In the space between the initial shock and some understanding of “why”, we need to limp toward trust. God is in control and is holding everything together (Colossians 1:17). Trusting keeps hope alive that good is on the way.

It takes time to rebuild after a faithquake. As we’re navigating it and healing, the last thing we need is to feel condemned because we’re not being a good Christian. Loving God with our mind when our emotional and spiritual self is bruised or broken keeps us connected and growing through the pain.

I’m praying for all those who are hurting and reading this. While I don’t know the specifics of your situation, I pray you can relax into loving God with your mind and have grace for yourself if the feelings aren’t there right now.

 

You can’t go back

Do you ever wish you could “go back to how things were”?

Most of us can recall days when things were easier…better… Usually, we’re remembering a stretch when relationships were stronger, everyone we loved was around, ‘bill’ was a guy’s name not something we had to pay, and chocolate was free. It’s tempting to not only spend time wishing for a return to the old days, but to also spend energy trying to recreate the feelings and settings of the past.

It doesn’t work; but it doesn’t work for a reason. God doesn’t want us to “go back” in our relationships…not with each other and not with Him.

When we’re straining to get back, it’s often to escape what is. Pain, anger, loss, disillusionment, betrayal…these can be so disheartening that we can—mistakenly—think, “If only things could go back to the way they were.” Not only can we not go back, but renewed purpose is found in embracing the truth that adventure lies ahead.

How can we be people who look forward instead of back?

It’s about taking the pain, disappointment and scars and creating something new.

  • Often, we will stay in a situation that is not good for us simply because it’s all we know. When life leaves a mark on us due to our circumstances, we must decide: Will we can keep picking at the wound, or will we allow it to become only a reminder of what we’ve learned? 2 Corinthians 5:17

It’s about knowing other people and knowing God in new ways because you’re different.

  • As we learn from the shifts in our lives, we cannot help but be molded by them. If we are open to growing instead of longing to go back, we become more interesting…and more interested in others. Some of life’s lessons can only be learned in the hard, dark places. God is there. If we are open to it, we gain new understandings of Him when He meets with us there and loves us through it. Isaiah 43:19

It’s about knowing wisdom comes with experience.

  • While I wish the hard things in my life had never happened, I wouldn’t trade what I learned because they did. I remember this when new difficulties come. I know that I will gain from the experience because I know God will be there to guide me. Romans 8:28

It’s about knowing we shouldn’t long to go back; we should long to learn and grow.

  • Whatever we feed is that which grows in our lives. If we constantly are looking in the rear-view mirror at what was, we’ll miss the beauty of what’s around us and ahead of us. If we are determined to only glance back for safety (to recall the lessons we learned when they are needed), we are open to continuing the grand adventure God has in store. It requires us to have the discipline to only feed thoughts that take us forward. 2 Corinthians 10:5

When we’re tempted to say, “I wish things could go back to the way they were”, I want to encourage us, instead, to say, “Because of what I’m going through, I’m looking for the meaning in this and looking forward to what lies ahead.” This isn’t a positive-thinking mantra. This is a faith statement that will lead to our hearts’ desires.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Write a comment…men and women invited!!! Also, be sure to subscribe to this blog and you’ll get updates when new posts come out.

Turn your “OW” into a “WOW”

When life is hard, that pain = ow.

I’ve always equated hard times to giving birth. If you, as a couple, knew exactly how long labor pains were going to last, you’d pace yourselves. Let’s say you knew that in exactly 14 hours and 36 minutes it would be over. Even at the 12-hour mark, you could pant, “Only 2 hours and 36 minutes to go! Hanging in there!”. However, when labor pains transform a normally lovely woman into a sweating, red-faced mess of “hee hee hoo”, the unrelenting agony can trigger a loss of perspective. The only goal is to get it over with.

Difficult seasons in our lives feel this intense. Emotionally, financially, relationally, spiritually it can seem as through we’re drowning in the Sea of Ow. During these times, we’re not able to see when–or if–there will be a guaranteed end to the pain. We can be so consumed by the situation that it’s hard to see any point to the “ow”.

Many people know the story of Job from the Bible. He is the poster child for suffering through a ton of unfair circumstances. In every way possible, Job was afflicted. In Job 30:20-22, he’s had it.

I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer;
    I stand up, but you merely look at me

You turn on me ruthlessly;
    with the might of your hand you attack me.
You snatch me up and drive me before the wind;
    you toss me about in the storm.

Have you ever felt like that—maybe even feeling it now? Everything you wanted…everything you hoped…everything you worked for – gone. Perhaps, like Job, you have called out to God and told Him how you think He ought to handle the situation. And, as in Job’s case, maybe God didn’t do things the way you wanted them done.

When the ow is overwhelming, we can lose perspective. Yet, the most inspiring people are those who share their story of surviving a crushing challenge. But honestly…? It’s easy to be inspired when the pain is over. Think childbirth again. Labor stories are about intense pain that lead to the wonderful “wow” outcome of holding a new baby. Rather than waiting for life’s situational agony to pass, is there a way to help our “ow” become a “wow” as it’s happening? Let’s consider Job again and take some cues:

  1. Don’t waste your suffering. To be blunt: You have to deal with whatever is happening to you, so you might as well suck it dry for every lesson it can teach. As you open your eyes in the morning and the reality that the “ow” is still there washes over you, convert that pain to prayer. Ask God to show You what you need to learn. Job mostly wallowed in his pain and spun his wheels—not a great role model for this point. Ask yourself: Am I praying as much as complaining?
  2. Understand there is purpose to your suffering. Like Job, you would never intentionally put yourself into a hard situation. However, certain things can only be learned in the hard, dry, dark places of life. The most interesting people are those who have walked through a pit, come through and now share what they’ve learned. I say all the time that while I wish I hadn’t had to go through the ugly times, I wouldn’t trade what I learned for anything.
  3. Take strength that it’s a season. After the Lord gave Job the equivalent of a spanking, He restored Job’s life (Job 42). Sometimes, there is no way to “go back” to how things were. Loved ones die, families dissolve, homes are lost, relationships are severed. I’ve discovered a simple truth that has allowed me to handle hard times with peace. God never wants us to “go back”. He always invites us to move forward. As we stay close to Him in prayer, take comfort from His Word and His past faithfulness, He’ll begin to gift us with a glimmer of the “wow” that could be ours because of the current “ow”.

Are you in the middle of an Ow? I’m praying that you’ll be able to suck it dry and see that this season will lead you to become more than you thought possible.

Have you survived an Ow? My prayer is that you are actively looking for how you can help someone else who is currently hurting.

The only difference between “ow” and “wow” is that first “w”. Let that “w” = a win in your life.