Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Shepherd Breaks the Wayward Sheep

I took a stroll tonight on a beautiful trail behind Asbury College. I thought that I was incredibly familiar with this course until tonight when it hit me that I had missed its glory. It was the course behind the college where I ran cross country. I always like to say that I “ran cross country in college.” The fact is that I tried to run in college. I ran too hard and too long, injured myself, got sick, and sat out during meets. Secretly, I was relieved to sit out during meets. I hated racing. I claimed to love running, but the stress of competition only paralyzed me. I found myself sick before meets, dehydrated during them, and devastated after them. I typically ran five to ten minutes slower during meets than I ran during actual practice.

I was never athletic as a child. I cried over the presidential fitness test, got sick on the one-mile run during middle school, and never made a single team that I tried out for. In fact, in eighth grade, I was the only student who tried out for the volleyball team who got cut. How terrible is that? I gave up in athletics. I wallowed in my awkward physical incompetency. Somehow, it was terrible to be inadequate in sports. My other talents took back seat. They disappeared in the wake of the devastation of knowing that I was athletically challenged. I was ashamed and appalled at my pathetic physical makeup. Until I made the “cut,” I would only be a partial person.

The anorexia and the athletic training went hand-in-hand. They started together, and they ended together. I set out to prove the world of PE teachers and big taunting boys wrong. I was not a pathetic klutz. I was fast, enduring, and strong. They would eat their words and their taunting.

I got sicker, faster, and more “committed” to my training. I started cross country in high school and continued in college. It became my identity in partnership with the eating disorder. In my mind, I proved everybody wrong. I overcame my limitations and created a “new self.”

What I did not realize, however, was that my new self sought to replace my true self. The true Megan is thoughtful, artsy, literary, and passionate. These characteristics are not in conflict with physical health and self-care, but I was never meant to be a long-distance runner or star athlete. And that is ok. As I walked tonight, rather than running, I experienced the beauty of nature. I observed the white and purple flowers, vast fields, the occasional daylily, the bunny hopping across the path, the trickling creek, a pond hidden behind the trees, puffy clouds, the occasional rain drop, and the deer darting through the foliage. I missed those elements of the trails for four years! I never saw the cool rocks, the little trails woven throughout the brush, the beautiful white butterflies, and the rest of the glorious creation.

Some people feel God’s pleasure when they run. I feel God’s pleasure when I participate in His creation. I feel His pleasure when I sit down for tea with a friend, when I sit and enjoy the beauty of His natural world, when I enjoy skillful literature, or when I sit and meditate on His word. I successfully numbed out through exercise for 14 years. Now I am participating in life, learning the beauty of a leisurely nature walk, feeling and listening to my body’s signals of pain, and responding appropriately.

Running is not intrinsically a bad thing. For me, it was a trap. It broke my bones, ate up hours of each day, and consumed my thought life. It robbed my energy, and stole my passions. I built it as an idol, and God had to bulldoze it. When He allowed me to break my ankle, I saw Him as the shepherd who breaks the legs of a sheep that has gone astray. Some shepherds break their sheep’s legs and carry it on their shoulders, because they know that if the sheep continues to stray, it will die. This is what the Lord did for me. As He carried me, broken, on His shoulders, I experienced the gentleness and greatness of my Shepherd. I will never go back. Running was an idol that almost killed me. It robbed me of precious college pleasure and passion, it destroyed my bones, and it starved my spirit. It has no more power.

I run in the ways of the Lord. Paul says to Timothy that physical training is of a little value, but training in godliness produces beautiful fruit not only for this life but for the life to come. I am seeing the fruit here in this temporal existence, and it reminds me of the infinitely greater fruit of the life that waits on the gleaming horizon. To have remained consumed in running would have provided no benefits for this (shortened) life nor any treasures laid up in heaven. How devastating it would have been to see Jesus face-to-face, only to realize that I had run in vain my whole life!

Yes Lord, running in the way of your word, I wait for you. Your name and Your renown are the desire of my heart.

Replacing Vice with Virtue

This is a little scholarly sounding, but it is still very personal and honest. I think scholarly is going to become a little more pervasive in my writing at least for the next couple years, so I appoligize ahead of time!

During this past year and a half, God has done a greater transformative work in my life than ever before. Through His Spirit’s calling, leading to my continued surrender, I have seen greater wonders throughout 2008 and 2009 than I have ever seen previously. God has initiated and propelled this process, and I have had the responsibility to respond to His leading through obedience and submission. This pursuit of holiness has been two-fold, as God has been refining my personal relationship with Him as well as my social relationships with the body of Christ and the world. He has developed my character in the realms of my thought life, my prayer life, my social life, and my physical self. As He has dealt with me in abandoning my vices, He has replaced my sinful decisions with virtuous decisions.

I began my spiritual journey with Christ at the age of three, and the Lord revealed His nature and His word during my childhood. I hid His word in my heart early on, which has propelled my spiritual growth throughout the rest of my life. That early foundation has proven to be vital in my spiritual, emotional, and mental development.

In spite of my early conversion experience and childhood training in the word, I faced genetic predisposition to various chemical imbalances and depressive tendencies. Circumstances boosted those tendencies into realities, and I chose to embrace a myriad of vices, which temporarily overshadowed the virtues that had been blossoming during childhood. Diagnoses were made, and I erroneously found myself confined to a “label.” I allowed myself to stay trapped in that label for 14 years, and the vices multiplied until I was almost consumed.

The process of abandoning vices has been an incredibly rewarding though arduous process. Because fleshly and disordered thought patterns were so deeply embedded into my entire existence, I had to literally “take every thought captive” and make it obedient to the Lord. The utilization of coping skills and tools for recovery were the vehicles through which the Spirit worked to uproot my sinful lifestyle and thinking patterns. The main vices that I found to be prevalent have been pride and fear. According to C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, pride is the basis of most human vices. In my personal life, I have found this statement to be accurate. Early on in my process of the abandonment of vices, I was conversing with a spiritual advisor, and she boldly and appropriately called my disordered thinking for what it was: It was pride, and I needed to fall to my knees in repentance. At that point in repentant contrition, I opened up my heart to true transformation. This initial time of repentance opened up the doors for a new sensitivity to the Spirit’s convictions and leadings unto further repentance and growth. Slowly, over the following year, my thought life was refined and redirected, as I learned to discern the Spirit’s voice as He called me to repentance and restructuring. With the weeds of lies uprooted, the soil of my mind was fertile for new seeds of truth to be planted. Mere elimination of negative thoughts is never sufficient for recovery and transformation. The negative thoughts must be replaced with the truth of God’s word and wise counsel of fellow believers and counselors.

This replacement process is synonymous with the concept of embracing virtues. The fruit which the Spirit produces in the life of the believer is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. These virtues, though never fully embraced at all times, have begun to take root in my heart and through the watering of the Spirit, are springing forth in my personal walk with the Lord and in my social interactions with others. Through a deepened and more deliberate prayer life, I have found a new level of peace that has replaced the previous stronghold of anxiety, worry, and fear. Through active participation in and vigorous study of scripture, I have found a handbook for the fruit of the Spirit. In my study of the life of Christ, I see the embodiment of all of these virtues, and as I emulate the Savoir through the power of the Spirit, I can also embody these virtues. As I have served others through my career at Starbucks, engaged in mentor relationships with adolescent girls, participated in fellowship in church, built new and healthy relationships with friends and family, and learned to intercede continually, I have learned to love more deeply, to serve wholeheartedly and faithfully, and to practice patience and gentleness with the even the most resistant individuals. Without the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in my relationships with others, my personal holiness and spiritual growth is at best questionable.

God is taking me to deeper levels of growth and higher levels of social responsibility during my time at Asbury Seminary. As I pursue my degree in counseling, I am making a commitment to learn to practice the virtues of Christianity with greater skill and understanding of myself, others, and God.

Throughout the previous season of my life, I enjoyed a relaxed schedule with plenty of down time. It was not difficult to make time and room for the Lord, because I had plenty of time to work with. This season will require much more time management and deliberate planning. In choosing to make Christ central, I will be required to set healthy boundaries with myself regarding sleep, scheduling, and self-care. One aspect of making room for the Lord to work, therefore, is making room in my schedule for concentrated time with Him. This will carry over into my professional life when I leave Asbury. It will be vital, as I pour into the lives of clients, that I be filled up regularly with my life Source. My time at the Seminary will help train me in time management as I learn to steward the areas of study, service, church, fun, and rest.

I am prepared for my previous understanding of God, myself, and methodology to be challenged and unraveled as He provides enlightenment through classes and individual study. As I walk in humble willingness to restructure my views while holding onto Orthodoxy, I will find myself made more like Christ and better able to serve and care for others. There will always be room for learning and academic growth in my life, as it seems that the more I learn, the higher my awareness becomes that I know very little. Therefore, humility is a key virtue that must always exist in this process and throughout the rest of my life.

Without the evidence of social holiness, personal holiness is somewhat arbitrary. Social holiness, however, cannot occur without the existence of personal holiness. They go hand-in-hand. This partnership is parallel with James’ argument regarding faith and works. Faith without works is dead, but works not founded in faith are merely acts of spiritless legalism. I have spent the last year and a half participating in deep and transformative pursuit of personal holiness, with only marginally significant social holiness springing forth. Now is the season for greater levels of social holiness to be paired with my continued pursuit of personal holiness. As this new season emerges on the heels of the previous season of renewal and transformation, I eagerly anticipate great personal growth with manifold social consequences.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"What Are You Running From?"

One time, 11 years ago, I was running and running and running, in the blazing heat of a summer afternoon, after 8 hours of building a roof on a church mission trip. I was running endless circles around a track, simultaneously numb and hurting. Echoes of a Voice of truth rang in the back of my head, but I thought that I could run away from it. I was in the running zone, which for me was deadness, and a voice cried out from somewhere. I never saw the source. I will never forget the words that rang in my ears. It queried, “What are you running from?” Appalled and indignant, I yelled, “Nothing.” I was so wrong. I was desperately running from the truth, from hearing, from life.

Over a decade later, I have learned the significance of those words so aptly spoken, anonymously, evidently inspired by the voice of the Lord.

What are defense mechanisms? What are addictions? What are idols and unhealthy habits? They are efforts to run from God. What happens when we run from God? It may go well for a while. We really can’t predict how long. If we know God, having tasted and seen that the Lord is good, we will have a nagging feeling in our gut (Holy Spirit??) that we are not truly satisfied. The Spirit will not let us be satisfied in a life of running. That is the reason why the prodigal son returned to his father. He must have known his father and realize that his life was sadly incomplete in comparison to the life he had known. He crashed, eating with the pigs. How many times have I chosen to eat with the pigs when God had for me a feast? Pride says to keep running, especially now. You have run so far, that there can’t be any grace left for you. Farther and farther, the promises have proven to be lies, but the lies grow stronger even though they are blatantly glaringly wrong.

The longer we run the more weight we run with. We try to outrun the pain, only to realize that the pain is carried in a nap sack on our back. It is like trying to move out of a town to get away from an illness that we carry within ourselves. Running away from consequences delays them and only increases their impact. They will catch up. They always do. Our Lord allows consequences, not out of a vindictive nature, but out of love. He wants us to come back. Why would He want me back? Doesn’t he know? I ran even thought I knew. I ran even though His Spirit grated and pulled and nagged.

Now the running shoes are shame. Guilt and shame propel my flight. I cannot go back to my home, because He has probably thrown my belongings out the door, given my bed to the dogs. Maybe He is seething in anger. Worse yet, maybe He has forgotten me. So I keep running, and my shoes of shame say, “You can never go back. He won’t want you. His mercy only stretches so far, and that grace ended miles, years, decades back.”

But how could His grace have ended if His voice stretches even here? How could the unbearable tug exist if He has already given up on us? He cries, “My grace is still for you. Your room is prepared. I am so much bigger than your running course, especially because you are running in circles. You cannot outrun my grace. I will not let you run without my voice reaching you. Come home. Come home. Come home. Come home."

Step after step, exhaustion increases. Step after step, we break down. We fall on our knees, and there is nothing left. His voice echoes in our heart:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Rest? Oh, to rest! I forgot what that was! You will what? Take my burden? I don’t deserve it. I deserve this burden. There is no way that Your grace is sufficient for me.

“Oh, child, you don’t know My ability to extend grace. You don’t have to be guilty anymore. It doesn’t matter. I can forget it. You don’t have to run anymore. You can’t run anymore. You have come to the end of yourself.”

But I am so dirty, Lord. Do you see the layers of filth? I stink with sin and condemnation.

“Oh my child, I have shower for you. The blood of my Son will wash away your filth. You will be white as snow. You will be spotless. There will be no residue of your trip away from me.”

Can you make me whole, Lord? I am wasted away because of my running. There is
nothing left of me. I gave it away.

“Oh, child, I will make you more whole than you thought possible, because I will fill you. I will restore every part of you.”

A couple of years later after the voice questioned my running at World Changers, I collapsed in a heap with a broken hip, and shame screamed that I could not return to my Shepherd. I kept running. I collapsed again, and I heard and listened to His voice. I stopped running. I fell into His arms. He washed. He restored. He healed. He made me whole. We walk together. I don’t carry around stains. Mercy is mine, and His voice is my guide rather than a nagging thorn. He loves me. He has always loved me, and the only place that I run now is into His arms.

For me, running was in many ways literal. It takes many forms. As many forms as there are individuals on this earth. But there is no form of running that is too far from the grasp of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Holy Paradox

There is a sobering splendor,
A furious fortitude,
A chaotic complexity,
On this sinful stunning planet.
The lion, the kingly killer,
The mountains, triumphant and terrible,
The sea, rapturous yet raging,
The clouds, producing calming rain and clamoring lightning,
The sun, yielding warming rays, and withering radiation,
The mind, profoundly deep and psychotically depraved.
The heart, lovely and lowly.
This great, glorious existence,
This paradoxical state of awe and despair.
This beauty that turns in an instant into destruction.
How can we comprehend it?

We can only stand in awe and worship its Creator:
Righteous and merciful,
Loving and just,
Mighty and meek,
Transcendent and personal,
Destructive and restorative,
Never forgetting, always forgiving.
The earth and all that is within it reflect Him,
This Holy Triune juxtaposition.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Mercy Ring

As I walked on the tread-climber today, my mercy ring caught my eye. Honestly, I never take it off, except to wash dishes. I think that it is beautiful, not necessarily because of its physical appearance. It might not be a size and style that I would pick for my finger, and people are often asking if I am married or engaged. I gaze at it and love it with such a fierce passion because of what it represents. It screams “freedom” to me. It tells the story of my transformation every time it catches my eye. It reminds me of the liberty and release from bondage as one who was lost but now is found. It speaks to me the pervasive presence of the Holy Trinity in my life.

Samuel, as he was leading the Israelites in their smiting of the Philistines, took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, declaring, “thus far the Lord has helped us.” I stand between the place of promise and the promised land, saying the same thing that Samuel did as he firmly planted the Ebenezer stone in the ground.

IN [this] freedom Christ has made us free [and completely liberated us]; stand fast then, and do not be hampered and held ensnared and submit again to a yoke of slavery [which you have once put off]. Galatians 5:1

Paul is absolutely relevant for today as he is speaking to the church of Galatia. God has set me free. He has liberated me from the chains of anorexia and depression that once choked and almost killed me. I am COMPLETELY liberated, according to the Amplified version. Paul declares the freedom of the believer. He then commands each individual to STAND FAST. He continually refers to this freedom throughout the book of Galatians, because the church has forgotten her freedom. She is running back to the worship of the law and its mandates. They have put off the yoke of slavery, but they are not immune to its mesmerizing appeal. Why is it so attractive? It was hell on earth. My life before mercy was 14 years of despair, bondage, and death. My life since mercy, while containing multiple struggles and devastating circumstances, has been full of joy, hope, favor, and blessing. I CAN go back to the yoke of slavery, but I CHOOSE not to. I CHOOSE to recall to my mind the works that the Lord has done and the wonderful consequences of obedience.

As I walked the tread climber today, I was reminded of my limits. After a decade of bondage to excessive exercise, I have sought to honor the Lord with my body through moderate activity. My limit is thirty minutes. I can do less, but I cannot do more. The flesh screams more. Five more minutes would not be detrimental, according to the sin nature fed by the lies of the enemy. My soulish nature today said, “A little more would be ok.” Then I saw the glistening of the stones in my ring. I recalled the freedom, and I chose through the power of the Lord my liberator to stand fast. I have been asked to participate in cycle classes that last an hour. For some people, that may be fine. For me, it is crossing the line into potential idolatry. God directs my eyes to my right hand, and I say “no thanks.” Sometimes it opens wide a door to share my testimony.

As I open my eyes in the morning, I stretch and the sun catches my ring. I remember how God’s word has sustained me and brought forth freedom into my life. His word has replaced the lies with the truth. The bed is so comfortable, and an hour more of sleep would feel so good. The Spirit whispers a reminder of the vital need that I have for sustenance through the feast of His word. I rise and enjoy my first meal of the day with my Lord. I look back and I see the progressive work of God’s renewal of my mind as I allowed His word to replace the lies of the eating disorder. My ring reminds me of the truth, which has set me free. My ring also calls me to walk in that freedom through abiding in the Vine. In this, I STAND FAST.

It is 11:45 AM. I face the hardest meal of the day: Lunch. I don’t know why it has always been so difficult, but my flesh still begs me to compromise. I open the refrigerator, at a loss. I shift my gaze to the gleaming of the silver that dances on my finger. I remember the glorious realization that my body needs food on a regular basis. I remember that my body did not blow up as a result of eating a healthy balanced lunch during my time at mercy. I look into the refrigerator with renewed zest and determination. I act out the call of my mercy ring. It says to STAND FIRM and not to fall back into the yoke of slavery to restriction the demands more and more calorie cutting and meal skipping. I will not be mastered again by a false god of my own making.

In its own basic substance, my mercy ring holds no power. It is the voice of the Lord that whispers as He reminds me of His wonderful works of healing through His great mercy that brought me to the place where Nancy slid the ring on my finger, and I declared, “SATAN HAS BEEN DEFEATED!” I cannot forget what the Lord has done in my life as long as I keep tangible reminders of the milestones and victories that He has accomplished. I am so thankful for the Ebenezer stone, which is my mercy ring. I look at my tri-stone ring and declare, “thus far the Lord has helped me.” Why would He stop now?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


She sits, rocking, looking at the empty cradle,
The yellow walls scream, mocking,
Her heart, broken in pieces,
“Why” is too simple.
There are no words.
Life is backwards, inside-out.
Light has become dark.
The yellow has turned to grey.
How to keep believing?
She mourns and weeps.
Can we understand on this side?
Should we try?
Just taking it as it comes,
Trusting, even when there is no trust left.
Tears crystallized into jewels,
Kept in a jar to be poured out,
As perfume at His feet.
Still, “why?” is too small.
A language of grief unutterable.
Guttural moans, sobs,
Life over but days keep coming.
Hopes dashed on rocks, promised life snuffed.
But can we see all?
What if….
He is carried in greater arms?
He is rocked to sleep by one who never sleeps?
He will never feel pain or sorrow?
He is parented by the Father of life?
Death has opened into life, and the morning of joy has come?
He will learn to walk in fields of lilies?
He will dance on streets of gold?
He will live the life that we taste in our sweetest dreams?
Still she weeps,
For her loss is greater than her own life.
Yet she mourns with joy,
Not as one without hope.
And her faith grows as she knows:
One day she will hold him again.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

In Her Eyes (The Mercy Girl)

Look in her eyes,
Raise your gaze.
She wants to distract you,
From who she is.
She wants to be invisible,
But don’t let her.

See in her hurt.
Scars deeper than tools can reach,
She tries to deny them,
So you won’t judge.
Not wanting to be hurt again,
She retreats into death.

See her need.
Desperate for His love,
She feels unworthy,
So she does not reach out.
Longing but terrified,
She puts up walls.

See her hope.
Beginning her faith walk,
She is afraid yet sincere.
She has taken the first step,
You meet in the middle.
Walk with her there.

Look into her eyes,
Don’t look down.
Look for the hope,
Take her hand.