Worshipful Wednesday: Can’t Get Enough of You

For much of my life, I was paralyzed by fear. Fear of failure. Fear of loss. Fear of the walls that I’d so carefully constructed falling down around me.

Fear of trusting God and having Him disappoint me, too.

Though I had worked through some of this, I carried much of this fear into my marriage. I would at times ask my husband not to go out without me, such as an occassion where he was going to hear music with friends. I was totally gripped by a fear that something would happen to him while he was gone. This, thankfully, happened very infrequently, but when it did, it was as real and oppressive as anything I could remember experiencing.

In 2004, my husband and I were involved in an amazing church plant. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. It really felt like this was how the church was supposed to be: real, welcoming, warm, convicting – just full of Jesus. I was the worship leader, and personally, I felt as if I was finally walking in the fullness of my calling: to use my songs to glorify God and to lead people to Him. I signed up to attend a local worship conference with Andy Park, Rita Springer, and some other well-known leaders.

Just weeks before I was scheduled to attend this conference, the church plant closed when the pastor chose sinful behavior (a sin that he had struggled with for years but had had several years of victory over) above his calling.

I went forward with my plan to attend the conference, though I had no idea why. It felt as if all my dreams had come crashing down, once again.

The conference was amazing, but on the morning of the last day, that dark voice began to beckon: You need to leave. Something awful is going to happen. You need to go home NOW or something will happen to Roy.

I called Roy, sobbing in my car, telling him I needed to come home RIGHT NOW. It didn’t matter that there were only a few hours left in the conference (something Roy pointed out). I replied, “Right! There’s only a few hours left! I might as well just leave, so nothing horrible happens! It won’t hurt to miss a few hours!”

Thank God for my patient husband. He talked me down, and we hung up. And as I remember the story, I sat in my car, crying out to God, weeping, so desperate for Him to show up.

And at that moment, this song, Can’t Get Enough of You, flowed out of me. It begins:

I come to You in desperation

On our last Sunday at our beloved church in Virginia, I was asked to lead worship, as our regular worship leader was out of town. I lead the congregation in this song, Can’t Get Enough of You, for many reasons. For one, I have lead worship numerous times at the church, and it is a team and a congregational favorite. And I sang it for myself because of the special place it holds in my heart: in times of desperation, in places where I am stepping out in faith, the song reminds me of God’s faithfulness. I needed to be continually reminded, is times of ease and trials, of Jesus’ wordsApart from Me, you can do nothing.

My husband captured this video on his iPhone. The lyrics are below, as well as a link to the chords.

Can’t Get Enough of You
By Brenna Kate

I come to You in desperation
I wait for You with expectation

I wouldn’t want to take even one single breath without You
I don’t want to make even one little step without You

Without Your touch, without Your breath, My life is meaningless
I need Your power, I need Your love, I just can’t get enough

I just can’t get enough of You, more of You
Lord, You’re the one thing I desire
I can’t get enough of You, more of You
I need Your passion and Your fire

God, take me in Your arms and fill me with Your love
My heart wants more and more, I just can’t get enough

© 2005 Unveiled Faces Music

Here’s the chord sheet: Can’t Get Enough of You in C#m. I wrote the song in B minor, but it seems to be easier for the congregation to sing in C#m.

I also want to mention that this was the last time I had one of those dark episodes. God is able.

Freedom Friday: My Stone of Remembrance

“People come and people go; only You remain. Constant. Faithful. Loving. Kind. Good. Comforting. Patient. Wonderful.” I tweeted this on Monday.

To say I’ve been struggling in the past year, and even more so since my father died, is an understatement. Some days, weeks, months are more difficult than others. I find myself anxious, despairing, eating to numb the feelings.

I had been asking myself, if this were someone besides me, how would I be advising them? How would I be helping them? I would be telling them to give themselves grace, that God deeply deeply loves them, and that He doesn’t see them as the broken person that they see themselves to be.

So, I have just been telling myself those things. That I am God’s favorite. His beloved. Cherished. That He has so much more for me than I have allowed myself to experience.

Something happened almost 2 months ago to make these things feel even more real and true.

On April 9th, I was driving to work as I do many days. I was on the highway, going just under 60 miles per hour.   It was in the mid 70s, so I had the window open about 5-6 inches. There was a truck in the lane to the left of me, driving about 10 feet in front of me.

All of a sudden, several rocks flew out of the truck. The trajectory of each rock was different, so there was no way to swerve or try and get out of the path of the rocks.

Several of the rocks were large and coming straight at me, so I did what I thought to do: I ducked! My windshield already has a crack in it, which has been repaired, but I didn’t know if it’s still as strong as an intact windshield would be.

I heard a big clanking noise and looked up, expecting my windshield or window to be shattered. It wasn’t. I finally realized the rock must have come right in the crack in the window, not breaking anything, and narrowly missing my head. 

I felt God speaking to my heart, “See, Brenna? I am faithful.”

When I finally got a chance to stop, I looked for the rock. It was by the passenger side door, and it was the smallest one that had fallen off the truck. Some of the rocks looked as big as the palm of my hand.

The rock in my car

I’m keeping the rock. It is a stone of remembrance for me, like when Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan River.

Look back on your life, on your stones of remembrance. Those hopeless situations where God allowed His hope to shine through. Those small lights in your life. Write them down. Reflect on them. Trust in the character of the God who parted the Jordan at flood stage.

God is faithful. And His faithfulness shines best in impossible-seeming, flood-stage situations. Choose to trust today in the God who can calm the storm and part the waters.

Freedom Friday: Avoiding Moral Failure

This is a topic that has been brewing in my mind for a while. This is due in part to things I’ve been reading in the Bible (Isaiah, Acts & James right now, with a little of Hezekiah’s story mixed in), assignments I’ve been working on for grad school (a big essay on plagiarism), and partly because of life events I see occurring around me.

I also just needed to write this for me. It’s a timely reminder that we don’t just “fall into” sin. We will sin. Otherwise, we’d be perfect like Jesus 🙂 But there is a difference in the way various sins impact your faith and your life. I may lose my temper with my spouse today, and that may break trust a little momentarily (especially if it’s a pattern of mine), but if I were to have an affair, that changes our relationship in a different way.  All sin may be equal in the eyes of God (in the sense that there aren’t particular sins that are more difficult for Him to forgive or required Him to hang from the cross longer), but some sins are inherently different because of the way they impact our lives.

There are things we can do to actively avoid finding ourselves in major situations of compromise. Here are some suggestions.

1. Be watchful over your thoughts
Your thoughts matter. Proverbs 23:7 says “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.”

In the article 5 Lies that Lead to an Affair, author Julie Ferwerda shares her experiences about how she ended up choosing to have an affair. She writes, “Few people fall into adultery overnight. As with other ‘big’ sins, having an affair is usually the result of a series of small compromises in our thoughts, choices, and behaviors.” And the place it began for her was in her thoughts.

It begins with a thought, a temptation. Temptation isn’t sin, as I’ve written before. It’s our choice to nurture that temptation that can become sin, rather than choosing to lay it before the Lord.

One of the Freedom Steps is Think Like a Free Person. I share there how God commands us to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. The battle of freedom is a battle that begins in our minds.  “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV1984)

Be watchful over your thoughts.

2. Be honest with your intentions
James says that we have “evil desires at war within you” James 4:1 (NLT). Believers are not immune from this. James writes earlier in his letter, “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:14-15 (NIV1984)We need to dig deep inside of ourselves and pray that God would help us be honest about our intentions in every challenging situation.Toward the end of 1999, I had been a Christian less than a year when I met a girl who had been raised in a Christian home but whose family had walked away from God. I couldn’t fathom how anyone could do that, and I desperately wanted to help her. I do believe that initially, my intentions were pure; however, my resolve for purity quickly faded, and we entered into a physical relationship.

Jeremiah writes (17:9 NLT), “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”

I wanted this woman to know Jesus, but I was still deeply broken beyond my own understanding. This is why I wrote Who’s Got Your Back? The disciples went out two by two for a reason. This is why we need community, to lay ourselves as honestly as we can before others, and trust the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth (John 16:13), including truth about ourselves.

Be honest with your intentions.

3. Be upfront about your actions
I don’t like the phrase we often use in Christianity to describe our sinful actions. We say we “had a fall” or we “stumbled.” To me, those phrases do not take responsibility for the choices and compromises that led to that “fall.” It’s not as if we are walking down a path and all of a sudden, sin jumps out and grabs us! No. That’s in direct contradiction to the end of 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT): “When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

In the relationship mentioned above, I didn’t simply “fall” into it. I made a series of questionable choices (not all of them sinful) that ultimately led to grave sin. This is why we need to, once again, stay connected to believers, honestly sharing about our choices and actions, and even the things we are thinking of doing.

Be upfront about your actions.

4. Be desperate for the Lord
God is able. Really. He is able. He is strong enough, He is big enough, He is loving enough. He is enough. Say it with me: He is enough.
So often we live our lives, making our plans, living as we wish (and not even in a sinful way, necessarily), inviting God in occasionally. We simply forget to include God in every decision, every thought, every actions.

We need to cling to God as if our lives depended on it – because they do. “Apart from me, you can do nothing,” Jesus said (John 15:5).

Later in James 4:4b-5 (NLT), James writes, for emphasis, “I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God. What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, jealously longs for us to be faithful? He gives us more and more strength to stand against such evil desires.”

Sin is crouching at our doors, always (Gen. 4:7). Through God’s strength and power, we can subdue it and be its master.

“Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be dismayed. Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will triumph.” Isaiah 50:7

Satan deceives; that’s his nature. Sin is always crouching at the door, desirous of us. Yet we can receive God’s help, determine to do His will, and know we will triumph.

Lord, help us.

Freedom Friday, Tools for the Journey: Keep It Simple

Years ago, I wrote

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.

Simple Girl
I am a simple girl
I live a simple life
I want to have a simple job
I want to be a simple wife

But I’m beginning to see that my life is not my own
And the path that I would take is not for me to choose
And all I want to be and all I’ve ever known
I’d give it all up for your sake; what do I have to lose?

My life would be nothing without You
My life was nothing before You
My life would be nothing apart from You
I can do nothing without You

© 2000 Unveiled Faces Music

I still want that simple life.

A picture of the sunset in Cape Cod

Yet I complicate things.

When reading these lyrics, I am reminded of a saying from 12-step programs, Keep It Simple.

How can we keep things simple when life seems overwhelmingly crazy?

1. Focus on what you know.
When trying to make a decision, I often think about all the unknowns and uncertainties.  It’s usually unhelpful and unproductive. 
It’s much more helpful to focus on what I know to be true.
Another saying I’ve taken away from my time in 12-step programs is, I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let God.

What a concept.

If God is really faithful, if He doesn’t jump off the throne at the first hint of an obstacle, then continually choosing to believe that He is who He says He is sounds like a much better plan than drowning in uncertainties.

Here’s what I know:
God is good.
He is loving.
He provides.
He stoops down to make me great.

That’s what I will focus on.

2. Stop analyzing, and keep praying.
I usually spend more time than healthy trying to make sense of things that may never make sense. I try to make decisions by weighing pros and cons, crunching numbers, and creating spreadsheets.
I try and figure out what seems good.
What appears good to us is often the enemy of God’s best.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

Then I remember: you have not because you ask not.

In Luke 18, we have this example of a persistent widow.  She continued to ask the judge for what she wanted until she got it.  In Matthew 7, God is described as a good father who does not give His children stones when they ask for bread.

Put your analysis on pause, and ask the God of the universe to lead you in His paths.

3. Choose to trust.
Friends, if you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time, you know this is one of my central themes.  If I say I believe the Word of God, which states that God is trustworthy, then I need to choose to trust Him.

Choose to trust Him in the way you think and the things you think about.

Choose to trust Him with what you say about yourself, your situation and your God.

Choose to trust Him with your actions and in the decisions you make.

God has our best at heart.  I need to remember that.
Keep it simple.

I am praying Romans 15:13 for you all this week:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Freedom Friday: Faithless

After a long, challenging week, this is all I have to offer tonight.

As I got on my knees tonight to pray, all I could utter is, “You are good. I am not. Filthy rags, God, filthy rags.”

And yet we have this promise.

“If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13 (NASB)

It’s what I cling to.

I pray it is sustenance and life to you tonight.

Freedom Friday: God’s Response to Ingratitude

I recently wrote this prayer:
You are good. You are faithful. You are showing Yourself to be so.

And yet, I mope. I don’t want to be in a position where I need to rely on You so heavily. Youch, can’t believe I just said that. It shows me the reality that I have been doing things in my own strength for quite some time, and it’s been working well for me.

Now that I’m again in a position where I can’t control much of what is happening and how it happens, I’m grumbling. Even when I see Your miraculous hand of provision, I withhold my gratitude because I’m a bitter, ungrateful child who wants more than manna from heaven.

Lord, forgive me. And more importantly, change me. I do want to be like Jesus. I really do. I want to exemplify His character. Yet what I’m finding in myself are some very dark places. Extreme selfishness. Pride. Self-righteousness. Just ugliness.

I’m so thankful I’m not in charge of fixing these things.

Strong feelings. Difficult to admit.
I’m not the first person to have struggled with these things.

We read in 1 Kings 18 that Elijah had just defeated all the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. He ran in the supernatural power of the Lord to Jezreel, where he heard that Jezebel was going to have him killed.

“And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life.” 1 Kings 19:3 (NASB)

He left his servant in Beersheba and ran into the wilderness, where he “came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.'”

Have you ever said anything like that?

God, enough already! It would just be easier for you to take me up to heaven right now! Then I wouldn’t have to deal with this pain.

A Juniper tree, from Wikipedia

While Elijah was sleeping under that juniper tree, God came.

“Behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, ‘Arise, eat.’ Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, ‘Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.’ So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.”

No rebuke, no harsh words, no reminders of how clearly God had shown Himself strong just days ago. No.

God reponded with compassion and tender care. He could have sent a bird to feed Elijah, as He had done before. Rather, He sent an angel, to touch Elijah, to be physically present when he felt desperately alone.
God let Elijah take a nap and then said, “Arise, eat.” More rest came and then a second time, “Arise, eat.”
After this supernatural provision, what did Elijah do once he arrived at the mountain of God?

He took up residence in a cave.

Yet still, no rebuke came. Instead, God’s gentle voice asked, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

God asks, Why are you hiding in this cave?

Elijah replies, “ I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”
Everybody’s trying to kill me, God! I’ve served You when no one else would, I’ve loved You when everyone’s trying to destroy You, and this is the thanks I get!

So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.

It took God’s gentle voice to draw Elijah out of that cave. God’s command to go wasn’t enough. Powerful wind wasn’t enough. Earthquake and fire weren’t either. But the sound of gentle blowing (another translation says “a gentle whisper”) drew Elijah of his complacency and self-pity.

“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” Romans 2:4
God then asks again:

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” Then he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

Elijah emerges from the cave, possibly slightly more open to God’s leading, but still asking the same painful questions. If you continue to read 1 Kings 19, this is the point where God calls Elisha to succeed Elijah as prophet. Elijah no longer has to feel alone.

Ingratitude runs deep in the hearts of man.
Why is it easy for us to rely on God for one thing, and praise Him when He shows Himself strong, and yet in other things, we are angered we are in a particular position and annoyed and pouty when He still shows Himself faithful?
God, forgive me for taking lightly the riches of Your kindness, Your tolerance and patience with me when I take for granted Your provision, as if You somehow owe me. I give You my life again in gratitude for all that You are and all that I’m not.

Freedom Friday: Battling Fear

I’m battling fear today.
There are several scary situations I’m facing right now. My fears are random and widespread. Most are founded; some are unfounded.
For most of my life, fear dictated my choices and what I did & didn’t do. Fear of rejection & abandonment. Fear that I wasn’t good enough and would never be. Fear that I wasn’t lovable. Fear that I would not have the strength to make it through the challenges I was facing.
Fear paralyzed me.
Fear could easily rule my life, if I allowed it to. Today is a good reminder of that.

My husband told me I needed to write Freedom Friday about fear. So here I am, writing these reminders mostly to myself. I hope they are helpful to you as well.
Once you recognize that fear is affecting you, here are some ways to address it.
1. Name your fears.
Write down what you are afraid of, and, if you can pinpoint it, why you battle those fears. I blogged before about fear of the unknown. It goes hand in hand with fear of discomfort, fear of new suffering. A common one I’ve been addressing lately is fear of failure; another is fear of success. I actually believe they go hand in hand. Fear of failure is often rooted in self-image issues. Not only are we afraid we are worthless, we are also afraid we are full of worth. We are afraid to shine, to walk in freedom, to live out our amazing.
Name your fears. Don’t be shy. Journal about them or just speak them out to God in prayer. Lay them at the cross, and then….
2. Address your fears with Scripture.
Fear can have an enormously crippling effect on our journey toward living in the fullness of all God created us to be.
Fear is not something to be ashamed of. People make mistakes. It’s part of being human. Jesus knew we’d be afraid. God knew fear was a part of life; that’s why He continually reminds us in His Word to not fear, but rather rely on His strength and trust in Him.
Search the Word for Scriptures about not being afraid. Find God’s direction about walking in His strength, about having courage and finding hope. Read them aloud and ask God to make the words come alive, that they would ring true in your heart & life. Remember that God is a God of peace:

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” John 14:27

3. Choose to trust.
Give your fears to God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego chose to trust God when Nebuchadnezzar was going to throw them into the fiery furnace. Their response is so challenging to me: “We do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
Even if He doesn’t?
I blog a lot about trust. In one of my first posts, I shared about how I trusted God with the child who was growing inside me, and yet, that child died.
Even if He doesn’t.
Trusting God is not about “believing for” a sunny outcome. It’s a choice to trust that God’s perspective is far above mine, that He is good, that He is faithful, no matter what occurs.
4. Do it afraid.
Joyce Meyer says when we are too afraid to do something, we should “do it afraid.”
As I wrote this blog post, I thought of a story Steve Arterburn shared on his radio program, New Life Live. Early on in his career, he came up with what he thought was a fantastic idea for a conference. He felt God was in it. He booked a hotel, a ballroom, advertised, and waited. The event day came, and the turnout was pitifully small. By all perspectives, he had failed.
Then he had another idea for a conference. A rather strange idea coming from him, as it would be an all women’s conference. While he could have chosen to be paralyzed by fear because of his past failure, he rather decided to move forward, full-throttle. It would be called “Women of Faith.
I imagine most of you have heard of it.
I read over on their site today that 388,000 women made first-time decisions to follow Jesus at a Women of Faith event. What would have happened if Steve Arterburn had let fear dictate his choices?
Do it afraid. Michael Hyatt says, “Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to act in spite of your fear.” So I trudge forward; I do it afraid.
As I wrapped up the typing of this, God reminded me of His goodness. If He is really good, who am I to fear? If He is able to speak the world into existence, is anything too much for Him to handle?
What fears are you facing today? How can you, with God’s help and sustenance, press through them to go to the next level?
A note to readers: if you follow my Facebook page, you know that I will be starting a new blog series, in addition to Freedom Fridays, called Monday Morning Meditation. Look for it on Monday! And if you don’t follow me on Facebook, do consider it. I often post speaking engagements and other news there. You can also find me on Twitter.

Freedom Friday: Remember Your Motivation


In 2011, I wrote a booklet entitled Learning to Walk in Freedom. It’s basically been finished for months, but I needed to sit down and read it all in one sitting to check for continuity and last-minute changes.

One of my goals for 2012 is to finish this booklet and get it published as an eBook. At the end of 2011, I kept putting the booklet aside. I had reviewed the edits from the two folks who gave them to me, and implemented those changes. But I just hadn’t made the time to sit and do the final read-through.

Everything else felt more pressing.

I began to ask myself why I wanted to wrote this booklet. What motivated me to write it in the first place?

Back in October, 2010, my leadership team for the ministry I direct and I all wrote personal purpose statements. Here was mine:

To see the Church & its individuals learn to walk in the fullness of freedom that is available to every believer in & follower of Jesus Christ, finding healing in the context of community, seeing themselves reflected in the image of God and the cross.

It’s still a work in progress, but I would tweak it a bit now to say something more like this:

To see the Church & its individuals learn to walk in the fullness of freedom that is available to every believer in & follower of Jesus Christ, by discovering who God truly is, and who God created them. This is done through study of the Word, through the transformation of the Holy Spirit, and through the healing context of community.

This is what drives me. More than anything, I desire to see people walking in the freedom that Jesus died to give them. This inspires me to write when I’d rather be watching the DVD’s of my favorite show I received for Christmas. It motivates me to get up ridiculously early and study God’s Word, talk to Him, and write about Him.

What motivated you to create your goal? As Michael Hyatt would say, what’s at stake if I don’t finish this goal? What will happen if you don’t reach that goal? What will happen if you do complete the goal?

Are you beginning the race with the end in mind?

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14 (NASB)

You can apply this principle way beyond goal-setting.

Why did you join that recovery group?
Why do you want to gain some control over that bad habit?
Why did you start counseling?
What initially motivated you to choose this goal in the first place?

Remembering your motivation can also help provide you with a reality check: was my heart in the right place when I chose this goal? Hashing it out with a friend or through writing a pros & cons list can also help you assess what is discouraging you and how to press through that discouragement.

I finished the final final edits of my booklet this week. Now, it simply needs footnotes added and the cover art created.

What goal are you working toward this week? Ask yourself: what is motivating me? What’s at stake?

Freedom Friday: Fear of the Unknown

I became a Christian halfway through my 3 years at Second College (I went to college elsewhere for 2 years, took 2 years off, and transferred to a new school to finish).

Initially, I was amazed. God revealed Himself to me, daily, in big ways and little ways.

He came through.

He showed Himself strong.

He was faithful.

Then life happened. I made some bad choices. I didn’t ask God for His help in certain areas. And I found myself in a destructive, and yet familiar, relationship with a woman who “needed my help.”

It’s no secret that I was gay-identified for almost a decade. By the time I came to know Jesus, my identity was firmly planted in being gay. It was who I was, and it was what I knew. It was familiar. It was comfortable in its discomfort (as I talked about last week).

I didn’t know anything else but being gay. So when this relationship began, it simply stood to reinforce my fear: the fear of the unknown.

The fear of the unknown is a powerful force. It keeps us in unhealth because the unhealth we know is familiar. It’s a known pain, a known chaos.

It also keeps us in situations that aren’t necessarily unhealthy, but are not God’s best for us. They are not the next step in God’s plan.

Fear of the unknown keeps us chained.

It keeps us from moving forward.

It keeps us from our Promised Land.

Exodus 14 begins with the Israelites camped by the Red Sea. Pharaoh decided he made a mistake in letting the Israelites go and began to follow them.

We pick up the story in verse 10:

As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the LORD. Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”

People stay in or run back to miserable situations because of the fear of the unknown. The above quote from the Israelites is a perfect example of that.

I was a perfect example of this. The woman I was in a relationship with had a lot of problems. I had a lot of problems. Even in the best of circumstances, we would have made a horrible match! Underneath that rebellious choice to enter into a relationship that I knew to be wrong was a broken child crying out to her heavenly father, “Are You really enough for me? Can I leave behind everything I’ve known and built my life upon for the unknown that is a relationship with You?”

I have to remember, as I read the above passage, that the Israelites were just beginning to walk out of generations of slavery. It was all they had ever experienced. It was all they knew. They had no context for the Promised Land.

Continuing on in Exodus:

But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.” Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.”

Moses raised his hand over the sea, and God opened a path through the water for the Israelites. In my case, my girlfriend dumped me, and I decided, painstakingly, one-step-at-a-time, to choose to trust God, not only in the area of my sexuality, but also with my whole life.

When God calls us to something new, it’s not surprising that we will experience fear. Like the Israelites, we have no context for this new journey; all we have is context for the old one. The “what if’s”, the questions, the obstacles – they overwhelm us. They keep us standing still.

But in those moments, you have a choice: stick with the pain you know, or choose to trust God and forge ahead into the pain you don’t know. The latter is a choice to trust that God is who He says He is and He will do what He has said He will do. It’s a choice to believe that He must have something better for you, that this can’t be all there is, that if He’s asking you to move forward, then He will carry us through.

If you are overcome by a fear of the unknown today, surrender it to God. Give Him your questions and hesitations; He’s not afraid of them. Then, stand by. Wait and see how God will fight for you and what He wants to accomplish for you. And “do it afraid”, as Joyce Meyer says. As God commanded the Israelites, go forward, despite the fear. Do not let fear of the unknown paralyze you or keep you from living in the fullness of all God has for you.

I’m praying Romans 15:13 for you today: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Freedom Friday: Black Friday Edition

Happy Thanksgiving, Freedom Friday readers!

This is Freedom Friday, the Black Friday edition. While some are out and about, partaking in this Black Friday, by shopping till they drop, others are experiencing something quite different.

Thanksgiving, for some, was a joyous time to gather with family and friends. It was an opportunity to practice family traditions, eat lots of food, and overall rejoice at all God has given them over the past year.

For others, Thanksgiving wasn’t quite so joyous.

The past year for them may have been full of growth and victory, setbacks and forward motion. They may have gone into the holiday with high hopes for health, for maintaining appropriate boundaries, for showing their family how far they have come.

Yet they walk away from that day, feeling like a failure, wondering if they’ve grown or changed at all.

For still others, Thanksgiving was a wake-up call, a realization that things cannot continue the way they have been. Boundaries need to be set, words need to be spoken, and possibly some relationships need to be put on pause or even severed. Just the thought is likely completely overwhelming.

All of these people are experiencing their own emotional Black Friday.

They find themselves rapidly plummeting into their default setting, experiencing despair instead of trust, falling into complete and utter hopelessness. They might struggle with turning back to old coping patterns, or even attempt to paint a prettier picture of the past than is the reality (a concept I discuss in the article “Craving Egypt“).

Freedom no longer feels attainable, and we wonder if we put in all this effort for nothing.

Before you make any rash decisions, wait.

Pause. Take a breath.

There is still hope.

When we experience the petri dish that often is our family, it is normal to fall back in to old patterns of relating. We revert to the way we’ve always interacted because that’s what we know.

Egypt was all the Israelites knew as they wandered in the wilderness. The promised land? They could only guess what that would be like. But Egypt, despite being slavery, felt familiar. Familiar was comfortable for them.

Even unhealthy patterns of relating can have their own level of comfort, even in the midst of their discomfort. That may seem odd, but this is why people generally fall into certain roles within the family. That role, healthy or unhealthy, becomes familiar. The reactions of other to that role, good or bad, is predictable. If one tries to fit into a new role, people react in new ways. Conflict creates a new type of discomfort. Thus, we often revert back to our unhealthy role with its own discomfort and chaos because at least that discomfort is predictable.

This is also why we often revert to our destructive coping mechanisms. The pain they bring is at least familiar. The pain of growth and change, as we strive to let go of those damaging patterns, is new pain.

The distress of trying to break into new patterns is also new, but necessary, pain. Just as believers need to learn to walk in freedom in our journey of faith, we also need to learn to walk in freedom in the ways we relate to our families.

What can we do to avoid another emotional Black Friday?
1. Remember what God has done. Pull out your encouragement file. Grab your journal and your Bible to recognize who He is and what He’s done in your life and the lives of others.

2. Recognize what happened and still needs to happen. Ask your Source to show you with His eyes what really happened on Thanksgiving. Ask for His perspective. Was there a moment when a boundary was crossed that you should have left the room or stood up for yourself somehow? Was there a time you did stand up for yourself where you should have been silent, that the energy you used was like throwing your emotional pearls to the pigs? Did things really go as well as could be expected or hoped for, and yet it was simply your perception or expectations that were off? What boundaries need to be set and what healing needs to take place?

3. Reflect on what God can do. Look back on your stones of remembrance, the ways God has shown Himself strong and faithful in your life. Practice gratitude. Find something to give thanks for. Put your hope in Him based on His character, His love for His children, and His desire to bless you richly. He desires that you become who He created you to be even more than you do! And finally, choose to trust Him.

Even today can be turned around. Make one good choice. Choose to turn to God and not self-medication. Choose to call a friend and not isolate. Choose to share how you are feeling, out loud, to God rather than stuff it down with too much pie.

Choose freedom. My prayers are with you.