Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why not me, God?

I have yet to experience the intensity of emotions regarding last year’s sequence of events as I have tonight. It could be hormones, exhaustion, situational, spiritual attack, growth, or all of the above. As I lay in bed, I relived the three suicide attempts of last year. I felt the fear, despair, lack of control of my behaviors, shame, and total detachment from the world around me. Still grappling with the idea that it was out of my control, I asked God, “why me?” I found myself asking Him not “Why did you let me go through that”, but “Why did you spare me?” With the news of a local suicide of a young girl, only 14, I wept and questioned God’s hand in that situation. She was so young, with no apparent history of mental illness. She supposedly was not serious in her attempt, but she succeeded, rather, the enemy succeeded in taking her off of this earth. Why did you allow me to survive, not once, but three times, when I should have died? I am no better than she is, nor do You love me more than You love her. Your plan for me is no greater than your plans for her. I don’t understand Your permissive will, Lord. You stepped in and supernaturally spared me. I didn’t deserve it. Yes, it was medical malpractice that took me to the place of trying to take my life, but you allow other events of medical malpractice to take lives.

It is all because of Jesus that I am alive, so why is this little girl not alive? Why is she in the grave tonight, and I am not? Why am I here lying in my bed, reliving those events with such pain and anguish? I would so much rather be lying in this bed of pain than be lying in the sleep of death. Even the thought of being in heaven with my Jesus, though wonderful, is not where I desire to be right now. I am so glad to be here on earth, living my thirtieth-plus chance, ready to fight the enemy and shine a light in the dark world.
So I cannot understand why I am alive. I cannot understand why this precious one is not alive. Reading The Shack tonight, I cannot understand why Missy died and Mack didn’t in his car accident. It is ok not to understand. There is evil in this world. There is redemption. Satan is active, but God is the Victor. I am thankful to be alive. I will fight for those who fall victim to the enemy. I have a high calling, one that is designed to touch many lives. I will stand in the gap for those who can’t stand up for themselves. I will fight for those like this young victim of the evil of suicide. My intensity of cold, hard emotions has melted into a warm bath of thankfulness, gratitude, and rest.
I am alive to carry life to a dying world. In His mercy, God spared me. One thing I understand is this: My life is His, and I am hidden in Christ. His life is my source, and there is no other fountain of life. So here I stand, alive in Him, to live for His glory, loving back to LIFE those in this world who are dying.

Friday, February 20, 2009

I desire mercy, not sacrifice

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
When Jesus says in Matthew 9:13 that He desires mercy, not sacrifice, what does He mean? I love my close friend Andrea. When we were roommates at Mercy, she would throw out a verse or a reference out of the blue, and I would look it up. We would both seek revelation through the Spirit and through the Word, and the light of the truth would cascade into our room like sunlight pouring in through the curtains on a crystal clear spring morning. Our Lord ministered to both of us through each other’s respective gifts. Andrea is more of a mystic, and I operate more on the intellectual realm. The Spirit and Truth would come together to create the most blessed worship time that either of us could imagine. It has been so sad not to have Andrea around to bless me with her revelations, but the other night, she texted me with this question: Megan, what does it mean when Jesus says that He desires mercy not sacrifice?
I could not wait to dive into the passage in Matthew 9, because I was convinced that God had a precious treasure He was waiting to disclose to me. It is amazing how little effort I have to exert to uncover His revelations. I have to respond to His promptings, however. Not wanting to miss it, I jumped in with both feet.
Jesus is reclining at the table of Matthew the tax collector, in the presence of the “especially wicked sinners.” I love the way that the Amplified stresses the “especially wicked” part. Obviously, according to the Pharisees, these were the worst kind of sinners. They probably consisted of prostitutes, Samaritans, and other outcasts in society. I think that the Pharisees saw this and resented the “especially wicked.” I speculate that there was a part of them that stood jealously watching these interactions and thought, “man, I have worked so hard all my life to be holy and pious, and this Guy who claims to be the Messiah won’t even associate with me. He calls me a white washed tomb, full of rot, for crying out loud! What is up with this?” When I looked up the Greek word for Pharisees, I found that it means the “separatists, the exclusively religious”. The word “Pharisaios” comes from the root word in the Aramaic “peras,” which means “to separate life from the general public.” The Pharisees made up a society of men, zealous for religion. Their attitude was merely external, formal, and mechanical. Their stress was on formal correctness rather than righteousness. Their whole existence was wrapped up in looking healthy, strong, and complete. Their folly was that they strove in their own effort and power. They felt completely self-sufficient. They had it all backwards, however. In their fa├žade of wholeness and health, they missed the Messiah. Jesus says to them in verse 12 of Matthew 9, “Those who are strong and well have no need of a Physician, but those who are weak and sick.” Of course Jesus did not really truly believe that the Pharisees were strong and well. The point here is this: Who is going to go to the doctor when he thinks that he is well? He may have a terminal illness, but as long as he is convinced that he is well, he will not seek help. Lying on his death bed, if he is convinced that he is not sick, he will deny it to his last breath. It may be the case that admitting his illness would save his life. In his pride, he could die of a very treatable disease. What a tragedy this would be! The Pharisees suffered from such a condition.
On the converse, Jesus says that it is the weak and sick who need a physician. He is looking for a spirit of brokenness, where the individual comes to the end of his resources and ADMITS that he is not at all self-sufficient. This is why He healed the paralytic, the woman with the issue of blood, and the blind man. These were not the only ones who were sick in society, but they were the ones who saw their fatal sickness. The woman with the alabaster flask, Matthew the tax collector, the woman caught in the act of adultery: these were the people who cried out to the Physician in their sin-sickness. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul, not the self-satisfied soul.
Jesus says in the following verse, as a plea for those who are healed by the great physician: “I desire mercy, readiness to help those in trouble, and not sacrifice of sacrificial victims.” The mercy called for here is the Greek word “eleos,” which represents ACTIVE compassion. It is the offering of relief from misery. It is rooted and fueled by God’s efforts to remove our own misery. It is the outward manifestation of pity, and it is only possible when God’s mercy is bestowed on the giver. Mercy is the attitude towards those who are in distress. The key word is “active.” As once-sick individuals who received healing from the great Physician, we are able to give mercy actively through service and through meeting the needs of those who are in distress. In the context of this conversation in Matthew 9, the Pharisees were far from this pattern of behavior. They were separatists, who wouldn’t dirty their hands for the “especially wicked sinners,” or for the sick and hurting.
The sacrifice that Jesus speaks of here is the Greek word “thusia,” which sounds to me (in my opinion alone, so throw this out if you don’t agree) like our English word “enthusiasm.” It is the sacrifice of an actual victim to atone for sin or increase purity. This sacrifice was good and fitting under the old covenant and the written Law of Moses, but now there is grace to cover a multitude of sins. True understanding of this Grace leads to an attitude of Mercy and loving-kindness, not sacrifice or enthusiastic pursuit of piety through isolation from society. Yes, the Pharisees are extremely slow and outdated in their religious enthusiasm. The “religious” lifestyle is the main theme in the lives of these “pious ones,” rather than the lifestyle of relationship.
Jesus says, in essence, “ I desire relationship, not religion.” Without this process of recognition of sickness, reception of grace and mercy, and implementation of this grace and mercy, true discipleship is impossible. This truth is why Jesus “reclined” at the table of the societal outcasts and rejects rather than the perfectly organized and clean, kosher tables of the pious Pharisees. Jesus operated under a new code, and this code would revolutionize the world. Will we let it bring us to our knees and then cause us to arise and go out with ACTIVE mercy?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tears in Eastern Kentucky

I brushed tears off of my cheeks as I drove the winding roads of the Eastern Kentucky mountains. You can’t cry while you are driving, especially while driving on a highway that you have never taken before, with sharp turns and random trucks slowed in the right hand lane. My lashes were heavy with moisture, and I tried to talk myself out of my grief at least for the next five or so hours. I couldn’t postpone it anymore, however. I had been stuffing it for 15 months, and it was ready to surface. Why now, God? Can’t we just wait till I am safe at home, not on this mountain road? He said “no. We need to wrestle with this now, my child.” I was alternating between worship music and sermons in order to make my seven-hour drive a little more exciting. I tend to get a little sedated behind the wheel, so I have to get creative with my driving itinerary. I was listening to a sermon on the storms of life and God’s presence in the midst of them. It was a whirlwind trip to and from Wilmore, Kentucky for my interview for my application for the Master’s of Arts in Counseling program at Asbury Theological Seminary.
My last memories from Kentucky were memories of hurt, betrayal, and horrible medical malpractice. I had been the victim of some of the most painful hurts I have ever experienced in my life. When I had left Kentucky in early November of 2007, I thought I had been able to escape the pain of the loss that I experienced while I was there. I was wrong. It was a storm which I had barely survived. I shouldn’t have survived it, except for the mercy and miraculous power of our Lord. Now, in February of 2009, the storm is over, but the healing is not yet complete. It has actually just begun. While sitting in a coffee shop with a dear friend on Thursday, an old roommate walked past and barely acknowledged me. It thrust a jagged dart into my heart. The next day, I walked into my old Starbucks and ran into a couple old coworkers. They stiffly engaged in polite yet forced conversation with me, as if staying far enough back not to “catch” whatever communicable disease I was carrying. I wondered what rumors had circulated since I left so abruptly over a year ago. Driving away from Starbucks with my mighty mango juice, I prayed to the Almighty God for comfort and understanding and the ability to forgive those who used their venomous tongues to spread lies about my “unacceptable behavior.” They had no idea. They did, however, successfully sully my reputation in my once intimate circle of friends. How, God, do I deal with this kind of betrayal and rejection? How do I grieve the loss of these once-intimate friends and move forward with life? I desperately want to explain the truth, to let them know that it had nothing to do with them, nor was I trying to hurt anyone. I was just as blindsided by it as anyone else. I was a victim just as they all were. If they would only hear me out…..but they won’t. They have already made their judgments; I have been condemned in their eyes.
In Wilmore this weekend, I faced my future and stepped out through fear in faith. I did something I have never done in my life, putting myself out in the open to be rejected or accepted into a program which I feel less than equipped for. God has called me into this place, however, so I had to act in obedience. This was a huge step. I have never felt qualified for the field of counseling, but have always felt called there. I answered the call this weekend.
In Wilmore this weekend, I also faced the past: the painful, humbling, soul-crushing past, which marked the beginning of the most terrifying, devastating storm in my life. My journey to healing from this storm has just begun, as I partner with my Lord in putting together the broken pieces and rebuilding my walls of protection and safety. I also partner with Him in building an exciting future. I join Him in writing His story for my life in the remaining pages in the book of my life. I accept His authorship, authority, and submit to His accountability as I go forth in obedience and faith. I praise the Lord that He is the God who gives and takes away. I praise Him for His gifts to come and for His refining process through fire of tribulation. I praise Him that He is our ever-present Help in trouble, and that He is the God not only of our present storms, but also our past storms. I praise His for being the God who tears down and the God who rebuilds. I praise Him that His grace is ALWAYS sufficient for me and that His strength is made completely perfect in my weaknesses. I praise Him in the storm, and I praise Him as I stand amidst the rubble in the aftermath. I praise Him as He opens new doors and closes old doors. Great is His faithfulness, even on the winding, tear-drenched highways of Eastern Kentucky.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Redemption of ED

The Redemption of “ED”
This weekend, I attended an incredible conference at a local seminary. C. J. Mahaney, a passionate, dynamic spokesperson for Christ, presented a beautiful picture of the story of the woman with the Alabaster flask in Mark 14. In this story, the ex-dead guy Lazarus is hosting a party. Simon the Leper, who is no longer leprous, is in attendance. Martha is scurrying around serving (her claim to fame). The disciples are enjoying the company of the miracle-Worker and the miracle-recipients. This is a party full of people who owe their lives to the Savior. No one would expect to be censured for their elaborate expression of worship in this setting. No Pharisees or Sadducees are around to cast judgment. Just the good-ole Jesus-lovin’ ragamuffins and fanatics. But the fanatics had no idea what true devotion looked like until this monumental, history-making night that would go down into the annals of gospel history. True worship of the God-Man would take a whole new form and reach a completely new level of intensity. Jesus says in response to the woman’s act of devotion, “wherever the gospel is preached, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” So why did those who were present censer and scold her? Was it because she was not “holy” enough? Was it because her behavior was too extreme and somewhat embarrassing?
This is a bit of a side-note, but in contemplating this act, I wonder what Jesus felt like…If the nard was running in His eyes, if His hair felt especially greasy, if he was overwhelmed with the intense fragrance of perfume. I would have been a little put out honestly. “Man, I was having this great time reclining with my friends, and now I have to go take a shower. My hair is all greasy and my eyes are stinging, and I smell like someone who just took a bath in very pungent perfume.” But maybe this is where I have a little progress to make in my conformity into the character of Christ. Returning from my rabbit trail, I reiterate the significance of this action. This act of service was so beautiful to our Lord, first of all, because it was helping Him to prepare for His death and burial—the death that we died with Him that day on the cross.
This act, as Mahaney put it, was an expression of EXTRAVAGANT DEVOTION. The perfume was worth more than a year’s worth of wages. It could have been used in much more “practical ways.” It could have fed the poor or been given to the church. Why waste it in a moment on something so seemingly trivial. But this woman new something that even the disciples failed to recognize: Her time with Jesus was limited. Her passion for her Lord transcended the rational, functional understanding. She was so enraptured and caught up in overwhelming gratitude for Christ that she did something “reprehensible” in the eyes of those who were considered to be the most devoted followers—the disciples. Are the disciples ashamed that they didn’t think of it first? Are they kicking themselves that they weren’t so grateful and lavish? Or are they embarrassed at this act of social inappropriateness? Are they mad because the “relaxed” and “familiar” atmosphere of the evening is ruined? Is their pride wounded that Jesus would be so responsive to this inconceivable act? Mahaney says that this act is evidence of genuine conversion.
Conversely, in this very moment, Judas is plotting his betrayal. Within the next several hours, he will commit the most odious act of betrayal known to man in handing Jesus over to the chief priests in the church. What a juxtaposition: Judas, who is completely absorbed in his own advancement and gain; this unnamed woman, who is completely captivated by her Deliverer.
As I was taking notes on Mahaney’s message, I went to abbreviate “extravagant devotion.” I tried to write “ED” for this term, and as I put the pen to my journal page, I couldn’t write those two letters in the context of such a sacred act. “ED” has always been an abbreviation for something so much more Judas-like. My eating disorder consumed my life. I denied my Savior through devotion to this personal agenda. I tried to “sell” Jesus to the chief priest of anorexia. I denied my Lord as I tried to punish myself for my sins that were made public spectacles of on the cross of Christ. As my pen hovered over the journal page in this moment of cognitive dissonance, God spoke to my heart. He said to me, “My child, I have traded the “ED” of your eating disorder for the “ED” of extravagant devotion”. I took my pen and wrote “ED” with a new meaning in mind. My Lord said, “I have redeemed you and bought you back from your slave-master. I have brought you to a place of genuine, heart-conversion. I have turned your ED to a new ED. Don’t be afraid of this new extravagant devotion. Don’t fear the reproach of those who think of your behavior as extreme and fanatical. My servants often break the societal norms in their deep gratitude for me. Their joy in My tender mercies and loving-kindness cannot be restrained by ‘scolding’ or ‘censorship.’ They will make waves. These waves are kingdom-building, gospel-spreading waves.”
In the conflict of this moment of decision, I realized my new identity and my new relationship with the dying Savior who made a public display and spectacle of my sins upon His and my cross.
Oh, Lord, let my affection for you be the thing that sets me apart from the culture of this world. Let this alteration in the tone of the message of the gospel increase the power of its impact on the lives of the recipients. Let my new “ED” be always an expression of my deep joy and gratitude of surveying the wondrous cross on which my Prince of Glory died.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Jesus-Awareness

Isn't it interesting that we have a week devoted to being "aware" eating disorders? After battling Anorexia for over 13 years and conquering it over the past year, I am so angry at the eating disorder for taking so much "awareness" from me already. I spent half of my life "aware" of my eating disorder. Finally, I have stepped out of the hyper-awareness into freedom from its dictatorship. A vital key to my transformation process was focusing my "awareness" on my Lord, others, and living life abundantly. Do we need heightened awareness of eating disorders, or do we need to become less aware of eating disorders? I do understand the argument that the purpose of this week is to increase the awareness of the general public of eating disorders, their manifestations, and effects. In light of this, however, lets take this week and make it a "life awareness" week for ourselves. Let's step out of our one-dimensional world of restriction, obsession, and compulsion. Let's take the risk and let go for long enough to grasp the fullness of the life beyond. Let's take this week and be aware of hope, life, and joy. Let's step out of our "perfect, silver cage" just long enough to taste the broken beauty of humanity, imperfection, pain, and passion. You may not want to go back into the cage of "eating disorder awareness."

Espresso Tales

Philippians 2:3-5
“Do nothing from factional motives [through contentiousness, strife, selfishness, or for unworthy ends] or prompted by conceit and empty arrogance. Instead, in the true spirit of humility (lowliness of mind) let each regard the others as better than and superior to himself [thinking more highly of one another than you do of yourselves]. Let each of you esteem and look upon and be concerned for not [merely] his own interests, but also each for the interests of others. Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:]”
“Love your neighbor as yourself” takes on a new meaning as I brew coffee, drop espresso shots, and steam milk at Starbucks. After having worked at Starbucks for almost four years, I have learned countless lessons about life, love, relationships, conflict management, the affects of caffeine addiction, and what a true servant looks like. We are told not to act selfishly or out of our own ambition, but in humility and love towards others. At Starbucks, partners are trained according to several powerful principles. We are to create an uplifting work environment for our fellow partners. We are also to meet, greet, and care for the customers who walk in our store. Those who walk into Starbucks come primarily for the coffee, but secondarily, they come for encouraging and uplifting interactions with the baristas behind the counter. When I step into the doors of my store sporting my stylish green apron, I choose an attitude of joy, service, compassion, and selflessness. Anything else is “anti-Starbucks.” As a carnal individual, who sometimes succumbs to my flesh nature, I expect to be well-treated, well-liked, catered to, and esteemed. My flesh nature, wants to be right all of the time. It hates correction, embarrassment, and humility. I must choose to crucify self, however, when I walk into Starbucks. I must take on the lowliness of mind and the humility that Paul speaks of in Philippians. When a customer yells or cusses or speaks down to me, I am to take it with humility, compassion, and generosity. When I know that a customer has ordered at double tall latte, and he insists that he ordered a triple, it is not my responsibility to insist that the word “double” came out of his mouth. My responsibility is to graciously recognize that surely he meant a triple and provide him with a smile and his third shot. When a customer comes through the drive through day after day with a look that could cause even the jolly green giant to wilt, my mission is to so consistently respond with a smile and words of encouragement, that she will eventually melt into a puddle of warm happy mush. It may take several months or years, but I am willing to keep on smiling for her sake. Maybe the combination of caffeine and joy waves will warm her heart, so she can at least curve a little corner of her mouth upwards. Starbucks baristas are not to snap back at snappy customers (If you have seen this done, on behalf of all Starbucks baristas, I sincerely apologize). We choose to smile at 5 AM when we open our doors, though we try to tone down our cheerfulness at least until 8 AM for our own personal protection. We are trained to create memorable, positive interactions with our customers every single time that they walk in the store. Granted, it does not happen every time, but that is our goal. Starbucks trains servants.
In light of these “Starbucks standards,” where does a barista learn to be a servant? Who does she model? How does she set “self” aside and place the welfare of her customers as top priority? How does she not take offense to the most offensive caffeine addicts? How does she turn the other cheek when both cheeks have already been slapped? How does she follow the command, “each of you should look not only to your own interests, but to the interests of others”? She absolutely has to look to Christ.
2 Corinthians 3:18 says this: “And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.” On my own, I am wholly insufficient to live a life of selfless humility and joy. I can only live the lifestyle required at Starbucks through the power of the Spirit. My responsibility is to continuously choose to behold the countenance of my Lord, and He promises to empower me to live as He lived on earth through His Spirit in my life. Praise the Lord for equipping us to do the impossible, to love the unlovable, and to serve the most indolent, hateful people we could ever come in contact with. He loved murderers from the cross on which they killed Him. I can absolutely serve delicious beverages with a smile to mostly nice, occasionally grumpy coffee-lovers.