Finding my Hinds Feet – a Place Prepared

Before I could blink I’d reached my last week at work. It was a bittersweet time: packing to move and training my replacement. Only then did this start to feel real. My lease was over on the 31st of the month so weeks in advance I made arrangements for a place to stay between September 1st and September 13th, the date of my departure. But, only 5 days before I had to be out of my apartment, those plans fell through and I was looking for a place to lay my head.

This came as an unexpected hitch in my plans, but there is nothing that surprised Him about it. He was preparing a place for me.

I reached out to a couple of friends who have large networks in the area to see if they knew anyone who may let me sleep on their couch for a few days. I planned to reach out to the friends I have in town and sleep on as many couches as possible so as not to be an imposition. But, before I could even do that, my friend Maggie connected me with a family she knows that live only a few miles away who had an open guest room. I’d never met them before, they didn’t know me at all, but they were receptive and invited me to their home to meet them.

I stopped by the Cooks’ house after my last day at work. Immediately I felt the warm familiarity that is present with other believers–the witness of the Spirit. Within an hour, this mother of 4 handed me a key to their home and told me I was welcome to stay in their guest room for the full 2 weeks before I leave. I held back tears, in awe of how He was taking care of me.  I was a stranger without a home, and they have welcomed me.

This, this is what Jesus looks like. This is what it is to be a part of the body of Christ. This is amazing grace. Unmerited favor. It was as though He had this arranged all along.

BabyCuddle

Cuddling little ones

…and this is where words begin to fail me. I wish that I could communicate with glistening eyes and a lump in my throat everything that I want to say. But this part is still unfolding. My heart is being healed by holding babies, and watching parents shepherd the hearts of their little ones, and laughter between family members and words of encouragement that never cease. My room even has it’s own little writing nook! It couldn’t be more perfect. I didn’t know I needed this. But He did.

I know that my home is ultimately not on the earth. But I am beginning to find glimpses of it in His people. Someone recently reminded me of Jesus words in John 14:1-3,

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

He has a place prepared for me. My home is where He is.

Read part 1, part 2 and part 3, testimonies of His goodness…

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Finding my Hinds Feet – a Dare and a Prayer

I was surprised that the door to L’Abri opened so easily. Cautiously, I started to line things up. I carefully calculated my finances and was surprised to find I could make it work. I bought a plane ticket. I gave nearly a months notice at work. I applied for a passport renewal. I gave notice to vacate on my little studio apartment. Everything that I needed clicked into place with relative ease, providing further confirmation that this is the direction I am meant to go.

But it was still stressful. Because I won’t be returning to Louisiana to live after Switzerland, my preparations have more finality. I’ve been grieving the loss of a way of life that has become familiar and comfortable. The good things to come certainly outweigh the little hardships, but that grief is part of the process and I made up my mind to allow myself to feel it.

I had one particularly hard day at work where it felt like everything was going wrong. I lost count of the number of times I cried. I reapplied my makeup at least twice. And by 3:00 I was done. I’d had enough of the anxiety and the stress and I wanted the day to be over already. So I prayed, halfheartedly, if you could call it that. It was more of a foolish dare than a prayer. I told the Lord, “The only thing that could redeem this day would be going home to find my passport in the mail. Jesus, if you love me, my passport will be waiting for me when I get home.” There was nothing theologically sound about that statement. Deep down, I knew that His love for me could not be measured in mail. I have to think He laughs at us sometimes with good nature.

My passport came that day. A whole week earlier than I was expected to receive it. I breathed a little easier with one more thing checked off my list, and I cried, again. Happy tears this time. I couldn’t help being in awe of the love of God. He didn’t have to answer that prayer. But He did. In that moment, His love was nothing short of extravagant. It may seem a small or coincidental thing to some, but that little booklet in the mail was evidence to me that I am seen, cared for, and reassured. God doesn’t owe us that. He doesn’t owe us anything, yet He showers us with His goodness anyway.

evidence of love

evidence of love

This is only one of the ways I have felt His confirmation. In the last several years I have learned to be so independent and self-reliant. I’m not accustomed to swimming out into unknown waters, relying on faith. While I am learning to swim He has given me these little things to keep me afloat. I need not toil and strain. He is a good Father.

If my passport in the mail were the last thing He did to affirm me, it would’ve been enough. But there are things He has set up and is doing for me that make my head spin. Stay tuned, the story isn’t over yet… 

Catch up on part 1 and part 2.. 

Finding My Hinds Feet – Desire Awakened

Once again, I am debuting my word for the year in September. Unsurprisingly, it plays a large role in this story. The Lord spoke the word “desire” over me in the first few days of the year. I knew the year of naked would be a tough one to follow. As much as I wrestled that word, would you believe me when I tell you that “desire” was more difficult to come to terms with? For as long as I can remember I have killed the hunger in my soul. Desire felt dangerous. It felt like breeding ground for disappointment or at the very least, discontentment.

heart hunger

heart hunger

My only intentions in regard to the word were to find out what the Lord desires for me and in me. I wanted to know His desire. But from the very beginning each time I asked Him what He desires for me He turned the question around on me, asking what I desired. Answering that was much more difficult than I anticipated. It wasn’t until sometime in March, after a frank conversation with some dear friends that I finally reconciled with the word, realizing that to deny my desires is to deny my humanity. When He redeems us, He redeems all of who we are, which includes our desires. There is nothing to fear in them.

The night that I emailed L’Abri I went before the Lord and just asked, “Is this something that you want me to do?” It was a loaded question. Going to L’Abri required that I quit my job, leave my apartment, give up my independence, temporarily lose touch with all that is familiar.  His reply was simple but immediate, “Is this something that you want to do?” Tears instantly filled my eyes; desire was awakened. I wasn’t aware how badly I wanted it until that moment. I felt His smile then. He is not a fortune teller and I didn’t need Him to be. I just needed Him to be Jesus.

I saw an image of what made Him smile. I was gently holding my desires in the open palm of my left hand. I was not clutching them tightly, choking the life out of them. I was not burying them or pretending they did not exist. For the first time I can remember my desires were allowed to be. And in my right hand was the hand of Jesus, strong and sure. I knew that no matter what happened to my desires, be they fulfilled or dashed, He would not let go of me. I rested in this knowledge.

The next morning I woke to an email from L’Abri. Not only did they have the reservation dates available, they reserved me a spot and told me that they would see me in September. After the toil and stress of the previous months I could hardly believe the door opened so easily. There was nothing left to do but walk through it.

To be continued…For a little more back story, read part 1

Finding my Hinds Feet – The Shore of Decision

I am sitting at a writing desk right now in a little closet office adjoining the guest room I am occupying for nearly two weeks. I’ve been here for three nights already and it’s only just starting to feel real. So I am here to tell the story of how I got here. Because our God is too faithful not to document His goodness.

Writing Nook

Just over six weeks ago I was riding down I-10 with my sister at midnight, listening to the latest album from Jonathan David and Melissa Helser. At the beginning of “Cageless Birds” Melissa recites a poem that grabbed my heart and would not let go.

Standing on the shore of decision

looking into the face of adventure

desire to abandon all I know

what pushes me is rooted somewhere between misunderstanding and knowing

knowing that what I want to understand is not within my reach

so I ponder my escape

not knowing what lies ahead

adventure in theory is full of excitement and bleeds with passion for life

but adventure in reality is full of breathless moments

silent nights, and wounds that leave scars of memory on a heart

can I go the distance?

can I give all my mind to get what the messenger is saying?

can I surrender my knowing?

will I survive the humility of ignorance to obtain a treasure that earthly gold cannot buy?

will I ask the question honestly

even if the answer convicts my soul and sends me to the land of repentance?

All of these thoughts flood my mind…

as I stand on the shore of choosing

in the distance of my wondering I see with clear eyes a flock of wild, beautiful birds

swooping in my direction

as if they see me and are coming for me

how strange it is that their eyes are full of clarity…

Song birds wake up

you’re not in your cage anymore

bound by your shame anymore

the walls that held you in prison

the gate is flung wide open

start singing, start singing, start singing, start singing

cageless birds

I’ve felt for several months like I am in a state of transition, but I wasn’t sure of the exact direction I was to go. All the doors I pushed on seemed firmly shut. I wasn’t sure what to do next, but the restlessness in me was relentless. That night on I-10 a moment of clarity came swiftly. I decided to try to apply for the Helser’s 18 Inch Journey program even though they’d stopped accepting applications months before. My age will disqualify me to apply next year and I at least had to ask if there was any shadow of possibility that would allow me to attend.

Unfortunately, the answer was no, the 18 Inch Journey was not accepting applications. But that moment of clarity was not fruitless. Asking the question was a proving ground, a test to determine if I would seriously consider leaving behind my comfortable life for a period of time before stepping into the next stage of my life, site unseen. There were other options.

I’d read about L’Abri several years ago from a blogger who attended. Studying theology in the shadow of the Swiss Alps seemed too far fetched a dream for anyone without a trust fund. But I visited the site again and after a few quick calculations realized that spending a couple of months there wasn’t as far out of my reach as I assumed. It was comparable to what I was prepared to spend with the 18 Inch Journey. So, after just a week of thinking about it and talking it out with my sister, I sent off an inquiry to L’Abri, just to see if they had a spot available for the dates I was considering. I didn’t want to dream or plan any further until I knew if it was possible. I didn’t want to want it too much.

And this is where the story gets more interesting. To be continued

Reflections of a Strong-Willed Child

A writer friend of mine shared an article about strong-willed children last night. I was scrolling my newsfeed during an intense episode of Scandal, using my “viewers discretion” as I’d been advised. I’m not even a mama, but the headline and the image of a cross-armed little girl made me pause. Before I even clicked the link, I stopped the show and reached for my journal because the Holy Spirit is no respecter of Netflix binges. And He had something to say.

The words “strong-willed child” might as well have been profane slurs to me as a little girl. It was a self-deprecating family joke that I never found very funny. People would compliment my Momma on her daughters, and she would laugh then tell them about her “strong-willed child” that mirrored all of her worst traits. Other parents would smile knowingly, and they’d talk Dobson-sanctioned parenting strategies, while I prayed the floor, or at least my mothers skirt, would open up and swallow me.

miss stubborn

The words stung because I couldn’t deny they were true. It wasn’t that I refused to obey, it was just that I always had a question or an opinion about everything. The word “no” left my mouth before I could bring my hand up to stop it. In the role of “big sister” I owned those 18 months of seniority like they’d given me a throne to dictate from. I recognized these things in myself but no matter how hard I tried to stop, I kept getting into trouble. Everything pointed to one character flaw: my strong will.

I hated my strong will. Despised it. I wanted to kill it more than anything in the world. My will became the enemy of God’s will, and I didn’t understand why it just.wouldn’t.die. The “old man” was supposed to pass away, all things were supposed to be new, weren’t they? Where was my “new man”? “Strong-willed” morphed into “rebellious” as a teenager no matter how desperately I prayed to be rid of the thorn in my flesh. This “quirk” of my personality became my besetting sin and the source of unending shame.

Until last night. Before I could even get pen to paper Jesus was reframing “the strong-willed child” in me. The same stubborn streak that did battle with my Momma for all those years has sustained me through some dark days. It supplied me the fortitude I needed to survive family dysfunction, sexual abuse, 10 years in a cult, and seasons of severe depression. But more than any of that, my strong will has been the greatest evidence of grace by driving me to cling to Jesus. What I saw as a fatal flaw He has used to keep my heart tethered to Himself, even when the circumstances dictated that I walk away. I didn’t break.

By the grace of God and with His help, I’ve drawn on that strength to fight the lie that I would always disappoint through undisciplined actions. I grew up. And I’m using the stubbornness I despised for 25 years to my advantage as I continue to seek healing. I can re-write my story and choose to leave a different legacy.

I used to think that being strong-willed doomed me to grow up a mean, bossy, control freak. I have my moments, just like any of us. But they no longer define me. I was a strong-willed child. Now I’m just strong.

Skinny Dipping in the Deep

When I said “Yes” to Naked, I didn’t have a clue where it would lead me. I knew there was much that I wanted to explore, uncover and discover. I thought I would capitalize on every form of metaphorical nakedness: emotional, spiritual, relational. Maybe that those areas would somehow leak over into the physical, boosting my confidence. I did learn a lot about nakedness in the intangible sense this year. But from the very onset God surprised me, unmistakingly leading me down avenues I never would’ve imagined for myself. In the last year my mind has been renewed and my life transformed by the truth that God calls the physical body “good.” I am forever changed, so much so that I want to write a book about my experiences, testifying to the healing and freedom that I’ve found. A few blog posts wouldn’t do it justice.

One of the more surprising things I’ve learned this year is that pornography (defined as a depiction of the sex act or obscene drawings or photographs) is not synonymous with nakedness/nudity. After extensive bible study I have found that the Lord only ever calls His created image good. His people ascribe all sorts of slanderous words and deeds to the body. But He, Himself says that it is good, a fact which never changed after the fall. And His is the perspective that I long for and want to live according to.

I think it’s tragic that the image of God has become a villain that we fight against and refuse to see. We need redemption. 

The Lord has brought some incredible people into my life from all different faith backgrounds who have come to see the same truth about the image of God. They love Him with all of their hearts, minds, and bodies, without shame. I am not alone in this, His spirit has been revealing the same truth to many and I’ve had the privilege to meet and talk with a few of them. They have helped me understand that the gospel, the good news, is even in this. We don’t have a list of do’s and don’ts or rules to follow. According to His word we have radical freedom to see His image in one another. And that’s something I can be passionate about.

At the beginning of the year I made a list of goals, things I wanted to do as part of the Year of Naked. I challenged myself to pray naked in front of the mirror, join a small group, answer honestly when someone asks how I’m doing, get a massage, visit an art museum and let the human form awe me instead of looking away. I did all of those things, and more. The list isn’t finished. There’s room for more things to be added and more to be crossed off. The Year of Naked may be over but I’m not sure I’ll ever be finished with the word.

So if you find me changed by this year, you’d be right. If I seem a little bit defensive of these truths, bear with me. Because I’m not just telling you about something I’ve thought a lot about. I’m not just running a theory by you. I’ve learned the truth about the body in the fires of experience, and the healing blood of Jesus has redeemed it all for good.

WaterstoSwim

When I waded into these waters, I swore I’d only get my feet wet. But before I knew it the water was to my knees, to my waist, and then I was skinny dipping in the deep. It wasn’t a river to be crossed once and then left behind. It was a sea, one that I’m meant to live by. And just like the water in Ezekial 47, it brings life to everything it touches.

Naked wasn’t just a word. It was a baptism. 

Going Bare: Is it Good?

By Lin Kristensen from New Jersey, USA (Timeless Books) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
 I’m not a theologian. I’ve not been trained in exegesis or hermeneutics. Typically, when I do a word study it is compact, focused on one use of one word and drawing rich meaning from that place. I am not the person to talk to if you want an exhaustive analysis. Having said that, I’ve now done an extensive study on the word “naked,” and have concentrated specifically on where and how the word is used in the Old Testament.
 
I found that there is more than one word for “naked” in the Hebrew and not all of them mean the same thing. Some are nouns, some are adjectives, but some are verbs, action words that are used to describe the act of uncovering someone. ‘Arah and ‘Uwr are used in instances of taking away someone’s protection, laying them bare, forcing them to be vulnerable, and even violating them. Generally when those active forms of the word are used they are not associated with anything positive. Nakedness defined in this way couldn’t possibly have been a good thing.
 

Even with all the confidence I’ve gained in my body this year, I would still feel violated if you came up to me after a shower and stole away my towel. I would attempt to cover myself. Involuntary nakedness is one of the most unpleasant forms of exposure. It’s something none of us desire. And we should not seek to forcefully expose anyone in our lives. Confrontations such as that are full of shame, reproach, and many more unpleasant things. You will not find in me an advocate for this form of the word.

 
Unfortunately, the negative verb for nakedness is the only filter through which many Americans have been taught to view their bodies. But what does God think of our bodies? That’s really the question I want the answer to here.  I want to filter my view of myself and others through Him – not through my perceptions, culture, shame, or upbringing. So, in order to better understand what God thinks of nakedness, I isolated the places where the word “naked” is used as an adjective, to describe someone’s state of dress (or lack thereof). There are two words for this, and they are the ones most commonly used in the Old Testament: ‘arowm and ‘eyrom. There is nothing particularly revelatory in the definitions of their definition. They simply mean “naked” or “bare.” Very straightforward.

Out of all the places where these words are used I can’t find an instance where God condemns nakedness. If anything, He remains neutral when it is mentioned. Some of His people certainly condemn it. They use it to shame and punish one another. But it seems to me that the only place God comments on our bodies as He made them is in the Genesis account, where He declared us “good” in His image. It was under that benediction that Adam and Eve knew no shame. As far as I can tell, His declaration of our bodies as “good” did not change when the knowledge of good and evil entered humanity. God clothed us for protection in the wilderness when He banished us from the garden of paradise. And the last time I checked “Thou shall not see nakedness” didn’t make the 10 commandments. I’m not inclined to put words in His mouth that simply are not there.

God’s view of His created image in the earth did not change when humanity became sinful. We are the ones that changed. We are the ones that hid our nakedness. We are the ones that allowed shame to create barriers between ourselves and God. How many times will the same scene from Eden be re-enacted? 

“Rebekah, where are you?” 

“I heard you, but I am afraid, because I am naked. So I hid myself.”

“Who told you that you are naked?”  

What a heart piercing question. He knows the answer, but He asks anyway.  And still He does not condemn us for our nakedness. Adam and Eve were condemned for their disobedience, and in a heartbreaking turn of events removed from His constant nearness and fellowship. But God created us for Himself, for His pleasure, and that didn’t change when sin came into the picture. Rather, it set in motion the plan He had before He even spoke the light into existence – His plan of beautiful redemption. 

Ever since the flaming swords were ignited, God has been diligently working to bring us back into meaningful covenant with Himself. All throughout the old and new testaments we recognize the call He makes in the cool of the evening.

“Draw near to me. Come out of hiding. Let me cleanse you. Let go of your clothing. Be naked. Let me clothe you with righteousness.”  

I want to respond to His call. Not from my hiding place, but out in the open. I want to lay my fear aside and stand before Him just as Eve did, but with Jesus, the Last Adam by my side. Because of His sacrifice on the cross, I know I can approach Him with confidence, naked and completely vulnerable.

Hieronymus Bosch – The Garden of Earthly Delights – The Earthly Paradise (Garden of Eden) Public Domain

May I speak frankly? I’m no longer talking about nakedness in a strictly metaphorical sense. In the last 8 months my mind has been renewed and my view of the body has been transformed by application of the truth that God calls the body “good.” I have learned experientially that there need not be anything sexual about the sight of the unclothed human form. I’ve come to appreciate the body for the masterpiece of art that it is, with all of its graceful curves and lines. It still takes my breath away.

I realize this is controversial. The easy thing for me to do would be to go on letting you think that I’ve only applied my word for the year in intangible ways. But that isn’t the truth. I dared to examine conventional views of nakedness, both those taught by the church and the society of white privilege I grew up in. When I removed the lie that western culture has taught me about nakedness and replaced it with God’s declaration of goodness, I was amazed at what happened in my heart.
  
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” – Matthew 5:8
 

He purified my heart, and I realized that the spirit is not all that matters. The body is redeemed as well.  Suddenly I was able to recognize His image when I saw another person, no matter what their state of dress. I let go of the perpetual filter of judgment over what someone is (or is not) wearing. It’s become so much easier to see the beauty in them and love them. 

Surprising isn’t it? Rather than sending me into dangerous shadows of shame and sin, the word “naked” has set me on a path of greater purity, wholeness and redemption. I don’t speak theoretically; I’ve tested this, at first thinking it was too good, too easy to be true. I’ve seen more nakedness this year than ever before in my life, completely free from the conditioned response of lust, shame, comparison and judgment. “Naked” is changing me in ways I never could have anticipated. 

But if I’m being honest, I don’t want to be alone in this. And quite frankly, the truths that I’m learning are too good not to share. I have found so much healing; so much has been redeemed. I dared to lay aside the comfortable cultural view of our bodies to see through His eyes. So I want to dare you to do the same.  Examine your own heart and mind to find out why you believe what you believe about the human body. Experiment with what you learn. Test it. I’m willing to bet that you’ll be surprised.

Feel free to ask any questions or raise objections. I’d love to talk about this with you.

Read the rest of the “Going Bare” series here