Thursday, June 28, 2012

Choose Your Hero Carefully

After my divorce seven years ago, I played in the Salem Pops Symphony for a while, but struggled to keep up while in such pain and turmoil. After our first concert my friend looked at my hollow eyes and emaciated frame and said, “I want to introduce you to someone, Beth. This is my husband. We met after my divorce and he was my savior. That’s what you need, Beth, a savior.”
Her words startled me and my spirit rose in defiance. I already had a Savior! He was the only One who could rescue me from this soul-shattering heartache.
It’s true I was devastated and lonely. I longed for someone to hold me and tell me I was worth loving. However, I knew that must never override my need for and dependence on God. No man could ever be my Savior like Jesus, the lover and husband of my soul.
Too often we want the rescue without the relationship though. The movie Snow White and the Huntsman is evidence of our culture’s confusion about a savior. Fairy tales were originally written by believers, to illustrate Christ’s relationship with the church to their children. This movie and many others badly muddies that analogy. In an effort to depict more complicated characters, modern movies are presenting us with sullen and unwilling heroes.
We’re familiar with fairy tales that include a Prince (the Christ figure) who risks his life to rescue the Princess. Then he carries her off on his white horse to his castle in the sky. It’s his kiss alone that can wake her from the slumber of death. He valiantly fights evil spells, fire and flood, dragons and dungeons to rescue his true love.
Snow White’s prince is depicted as surly and reluctant. It’s up to her to fight her own battle and get help where she can. Yet she’s enamored by this drunken huntsman rather than her childhood friend - the one who’s loved her all his life and risked everything to save her. He’s the one who cared enough to kiss away the spell of death.
           Yet Snow White slumbered on, until she received a kiss from her inebriated huntsman. He only admitted he cared for her when no one else was present and he thought she was dead. When she awoke he followed her into battle. She conquered the evil queen, and he arrived after her coronatioceremony, without bothering to dress up. And this is our hero?
Are these dark remakes representative of our culture’s rejection of Christ, our ultimate Savior? Today’s heroes are less than heroic and the Princess less than willing to be saved.
Imagine how differently the story would end if the Prince rode up on his faithful steed and the princess declined his rescue. “Thanks anyway,” she might say with a dismissive wave, “I’m good. But I would appreciate it if you could help me get out of this mess. I just need a few tips on how to use this dagger. But I’m not really into riding off with you to your castle.
“In fact, I’m not sure I even want to get married. I’m okay on my own. I might travel some. Or I might get together with the Huntsman; he would take good care of me. I’m sure he’ll stop drinking once we get married.” Would this tale really end happily ever after?
Sadly, this scenario happens all the time. Our Savior comes to rescue us from the despair and bondage of sin. We gladly accept His help out of our predicament, but reject any ongoing relationship with Him. Not because He isn’t perfect husband material; it’s because we have somehow been deceived into thinking there are more exciting lovers out there than the One who has loved us all our life. The One who sacrificed everything to come rescue us.
If you want a happily ever after, it's important to choose your hero carefully.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Selah: The Pause that Refreshes

If you’ve ever read the psalms, you’ve come across the word Selah. Most likely, you’ve skipped over it without a thought or read the side note which says it’s a musical term of obscure meaning. However, if you dig a little deeper, Selah is not only meaningful, but a fantastic philosophy for life.

Selah is a Hebrew word that occurs 74 times in the Old Testament. The definitions scholars suggest not only apply to musicians from ancient times, but to every God-worshiper.

The first possibility is derived from the word “salal” which means to lift up or increase in volume. Secondly, it might have been an instruction to musicians to pause or take a breath, to accentuate the words so the listener could derive their meaning. The third possibility is that Selah was a word of affirmation, like our modern Amen. All were meant to provide a “total, vibrant worship experience” for both the musicians and the listeners (NIV Archeological Bible).
What would happen if we applied Selah to every facet of life?

Take the words “lift up” for instance. As you rise in the morning, savor a cup of coffee, and read God’s Word – let the music swell. When the sun shines, the mist fingers down the mountains, and I notice flowers in an array of colors and designs, or catch a glimpse of “our” coyote hunting in the field – turn up the volume and praise. When I get a surprise call from a child, parent, friend, or a sweet message from my husband – Selah.

Then there’s the pause for breath. My daughter chose the name Selah Photography for her company based on this definition. It represents her approach to photography as well as the relationship she strives to maintain with God and others.

I’ve been pausing a lot more than I would like to this last month with a combination of allergies, colds, and flu. I would much rather be up and doing, but every time I tried to re-enter the fray, I ended up back on the couch with another box of Kleenex and more liquids.

All this pausing has given me time to meditate on God’s Word, letting it trickle down to the deepest part of my soul. I’ve also read a few excellent books: The Bait of Satan, 90 Minutes in Heaven, Passion and Purity, Unleash the Writer Within, and My Life of Adventure to name a few. I watched Mommy Dearest for the first time, which chilled and challenged me on many levels. I also drug out a box of journals and began reading entries from 1978.

I’ve been taking time out to breathe and think about God’s character and my response to Him; about friendships, parenting, marriage, my calling as a writer. Can I be content to continue in obedience, even when it seems pointless and obscure? My answer is yes.

The third definition for Selah is affirmation. We may not go around shouting Amen whenever we’re blessed, but God certainly gives us plenty of reasons to. Answers to prayer – Selah! Evidence of hard won spiritual growth – Selah! The strength to say no to temptation – Selah!  Baby believers and growing disciples – Selah! The opportunity to speak truth, encouragement, and hope – Selah!

What a great word! We may not know exactly what it means, but that’s part of its charm. I encourage you to stop the next time to see it in your Bible, or in your day, and take a moment to step up the volume, take a breath, and say Amen.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What Did You Know?

One of my daughters works at a department store and always has interesting stories about conversations with customers. The other day a lady came through her line and leaned forward conspiratorially, “What did you know about ice cream?”
My daughter was unsure how to respond. “You mean, what do I know, like, what kinds of ice cream do we sell?”

“No, what did you know? We talked about this before and you told me what you knew.”

That didn’t help much, since my daughter didn’t recognize this woman or recall any significant conversation regarding ice cream. She asked several questions to discover what the woman wanted to know, but met with resistance. Finally, the woman made her purchases and stomped off in disgust.

When my daughter told us the story, we laughed and shook our heads. “What did you used to know about ice cream that you don’t know anymore? What secret information are you harboring from us?” It became our new private joke.

Later, however, the question haunted me. What did our children, families, and friends used to know about God that they no longer know? And why don’t they know it anymore?

Psalm forty-two is written by a believer: who felt far from God, disappointed with life, and his faith challenged. “My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long,Where is your God?’”

This is what he did about it:These things I remember as I pour out my soul” (Psalm 42:3-4, emphasis mine).

Forgetfulness is nothing new. I can think of three reasons why we forget. First, we forget because we’re human. There’s so much information coming at us all the time that our brains can’t hang onto everything at once. That’s why we make lists, plant sticky notes everywhere, and write things on our hands. We want to remember what’s important.

Secondly, we forget because distance erases memory. The farther we move from God, the more we forget Him. When we don’t spend time with Him, we forget His character and His love. The less we listen, the less we recognize His voice. Then we fail to see Him at work in our lives and in our world.

Finally, we forget because we think if we “forget” we won’t be held accountable for our choices. The text note on Psalm 42 in the NIV Archeological Bible says: “Forgetting God in the Hebrew mind was a willful act of ‘unlearning,’ whereby rebellious humans rejected what they had known and sought to create a world in which God did not act or exist. Such people might cry, ‘Where is your God?’”

What’s the solution for spiritual forgetfulness? The psalmist did four things:

·         he remembered how sweet it is to be with other believers

·         he poured out his soul to God

·         he chose to put his hope in Him

·         he determined to praise God – “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.”

We can do these things personally. We can also prompt others who have forgotten. “What did you know about God? Here’s what I remember, and know, and strive to keep on knowing.” Hopefully, if we keep reminding them, they will remember too.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How Do You Know If You’re Healed?

Everyone faces trouble in life, but some hurts are harder to get over. Death, abuse, abandonment, addiction, and tragic loss are just a few things that take more recovery time. Whether you caused your own demise, or someone else hurt you, healing takes time. But how do you know when you’re “there?”

Two sure signs are when you’re able to live in the present, and when you become productive and fruitful.

Seven years ago, I went through an unwanted divorce and my counselor gave me a very helpful visual for the healing process. He held his writing tablet at face level and said, “Right now, the divorce feels like this to you. Your attention is focused here. You’re spending most of your energy coping with your present brokenness.

You’re aware life is going on out here,” he said, waving his hand in my peripheral view. “But right now you don’t feel like you’re part of that world.” I nodded. “You’re struggling for survival; you have to force yourself to function each day.”

Then he laid the tablet on his lap. “In a few months your divorce will move down here,” he said. “You will still think about it a lot, and the hurt will still be fresh, but you will be more aware of other people. You will have more energy to invest in your children and work, and you will find pleasure in relationships and activities again.” This time I nodded, eager for the glimmer of hope he offered.

Finally, he tossed the tablet to the corner of his office. “Eventually, your divorce will move over there.” He turned back and looked me in the eye. “The day will come when you will be happy again. God will fill your life with new relationships, dreams, opportunities, and laughter. You will only think about the divorce when something triggers your memory.

“When that happens, it will be like suddenly noticing there’s a tablet over there on the floor. Painful memories will rise as if from a great distance. You might wince. Then you’ll go back to whatever you were doing.”

This illustration gave me hope over the next few years. Now I know what he said is true. With God, healing does come, no matter what kind of hurt you’ve experienced.

Joseph had every reason to feel wounded. His brothers hated and conspired to kill him, but at the last minute decided to sell him instead. At the age of seventeen Joseph became a slave in Egypt – where they spoke a foreign language, practiced different customs, and worshiped strange gods. Despite this, Joseph thrived in his master’s house, that is, until the master’s wife accused Joseph of rape. Even though he was innocent, his master threw him in jail.

For thirteen years Joseph suffered because of other people’s choices. He must have experienced the same feelings we do: confusion, anger, doubt, revenge. When he finally got out of prison, however, he did two things that revealed healing had taken place.

“Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, ‘It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.’ The second son he named Ephraim and said, ‘It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering’” (Genesis 41:51-52).

Obviously you don’t forget being sold by your own brothers, and spending years in prison for something you didn’t do. However, the pain can fade into our peripheral view, just like my counselor’s tablet. When you’re healed, you don’t focus on the pain of the past; you live in the present and have hope for the future.

Secondly, healed people produce good fruit. Joseph modeled forgiveness to his sons, saved an entire country from starvation, brought honor to God, and expressed mercy to his brothers. Even though he referred to Egypt as the land of his suffering, he didn’t let that stop him from helping others.

Where do you see yourself in the process? Can you say God has helped you forget the pain of the past and is making you fruitful where you are now? Are you using your experiences to encourage others? It takes time, and some days are better than others, but hopefully you’re on the way. I’m with you on this journey, letting God heal my past and working for a productive future.

(I am currently working on a divorce recovery book for women whose husbands wanted out of the marriage. Watch for more news  and excerpts on my blog.)