Is God Good?

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We sat sipping our coffees and checking our smart phones, a sprinkling of conversation here and there. I was afraid I was going to be late, as I snuck into the back row right as Sunday school got started. For the next hour a few dozen of us ranging in age from late teens to well past retirement talked about the attributes of God’s goodness. We celebrated the God of love and mercy and grace and wrestled openly with the idea of God’s justice and righteousness and holiness.

We asked questions… How do you help your child understand that God is still good when they go to school with kids that don’t have enough to eat? How to you reconcile that God is love with the Old Testament stories of hardened hearts and decimated armies. How do you trust in God’s mercy when He allows good people to die early deaths?

Is God good? And if He is good then what do we do with the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the hurricanes, the murderers?

This morning when my alarm went off my first thought was that question. Is God good? The prayer that followed that question was a sincere one, “Father, help me to see your goodness today.” Not even an hour later news reports started coming in, the deadliest shooting in America’s history. More than 50 killed, hundreds more injured, all at the hand of one man. A man who’s name none of us knew when we went to bed last night. A man who will occupy most of our thoughts and conversations today.

Yesterday in Sunday school we talked about Psalm 139 and how it is a picture of God’s attributes. How He formed us and knew us before we were born. How He inhabits every moment and every place. How He knows us intimately and deeply. One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in Psalm 139, verse 16 says “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” That verse has comforted me many times in life. It’s served as a reminder that none of my days take God by surprise. And that even the days filled with sorrow were ordained by Him for me. And if they were ordained by Him for me then there is goodness in them, even when it’s hard to find.

Here’s the thing though… if that is true for me then it is true for everyone. If God wrote the story of our lives in His book before we drew our first breath then He wrote the story in today’s headlines in His book too. This man that none of us knew yesterday was known by God before he was formed in his mother’s womb. Before he lived a day God saw this day and the hundreds of lives that would be tragically altered forever by this one man.

Can I be honest? I don’t know what to do with that. I don’t know how to process the thought that God allowed this man to be born and live 64 years on this earth knowing that today would happen. But He did.

Is God good?

I wish I had the theology to unpack the truth of God’s goodness in the shadow of mass murder. I don’t. All I have is faith. Faith to believe that God is good because He says He is. Faith to believe that there will come a day when all truth will be revealed. Until that day, I chose to cling to the hope that God is who He says He is.

I chose to believe the words of Fyodor Dostoyevsky “I believe like a child, that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage… in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that is will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”

This side of eternity I can’t see anything that would justify all that has happened. This side of eternity I find it hard to forgive. This side of eternity I can’t make sense of today. But I hope, with all of my heart, that a day is coming when He will make all things new, and we will be reconciled once again to life, and love, and truth.

Until that day comes…

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Scary Places of the Heart

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I used to be terrified of my heart. My head and I were great friends. I could research and learn and file facts away and lean on them when I didn’t know what to do or think or say. But my heart… my heart was deep water that I was scared to dive into.

The question “what do you think” was one I welcomed. I could tell you what I thought about a million things. But “what do you feel?” that was a completely different story. I didn’t know what I felt, and even if I figured out what I felt I didn’t understand why I felt what I was feeling, much less what do to with those feelings.

So, I avoided my heart at all costs, substituting facts and data for feelings and passion. I’d spend hours researching what the Bible had to say about a topic, and never even think to ask God how the truth of what I was learning applied to my heart and life. It was just easier that way. Easier… but harder too.

Feelings are scary things. Especially when you’ve spent years stuffing your emotions in a closet and bolting the door shut.

A friend of mine who is a trauma therapy counselor told me once that you can’t isolate which emotions you shut down. If you shut down fear then you also shut down surprise. If you shut down sadness then you also shut down joy. In an effort to protect ourselves from the pain of emotion we rob ourselves of the joy of emotion. For years it was a trade I was willing to make. I’d rather feel nothing than feel anger, or fear, or despair. So that’s just what I did. Avoided my heart like the plague. Because my heart was terrifying.

I’m still a girl that leans towards the logical. I still love diving deep and finding out what a word means in the original Greek or Hebrew. But I’m learning that God wants us to have unity between our heads and our hearts, not division. There doesn’t have to a war between the two with clear winners of every battle. (Unless our hearts are leading us to sin, then go with your head. Trust me on that one!)

Years ago I started asking God to help me understand the disconnect between my heart and my head. I still don’t know that I understand why I lived so many years disconnected from my heart, but I do know that it’s not the best way to live. If I’m created in God’s image then doesn’t it stand to reason that my heart and my emotions are part of His plan for me? Maybe I should quit running from my heart and emotions and start learning to understand them, and listen to God through them.

I still don’t have my heart figured out. I honestly don’t know that I ever will. But I’m not terrified of my heart anymore. When I feel something (whether it’s good, bad, or ugly) I’m learning to bring those feelings to God, and sit with Him in the emotions and ask Him to show me why I’m feeling the way I feel and what I should do with those feelings. It’s amazing to me how a simply whispered prayer of “God I’m feeling really ­­­________ right now, what’s going on with my heart?” can change your perspective on everything. Because He’s the only one that truly understands our hearts. And He can be trusted to reveal truth to us. If we’ll be brave enough to let Him.

~Keri

If you’re struggling to connect with your heart, maybe this will help get you started! 

Return with Joy

Over Spring Break we dog sat for some friends of ours. They have a black lab that is less than a year old and adorable. The last day they were with us my son put him in his kennel but didn’t close the door. The silly dog laid in that cage for a good 10 minutes whining because he wanted out so bad. We kept telling him, and showing him, the door was open, but for some reason he just couldn’t see his way to freedom.

Sounds like me sometime. Feeling trapped. Asking God for rescue. Completely missing the way of escape He’s provide. I lived like that for years. I’ll even confess, sometimes I was perfectly aware of the open door, but the comfort of my cage overruled the intrigue of the unknown on the other side of the door.

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One of my favorite verses of all time is Psalm 18:19 He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have been rescued by my God. For a long time I felt like He rescued me out of a sense of duty or obligation, and then I found this verse and it pretty much rocked my world.

He rescued me because He delights in me? Really? How is that even possible? I asked that question for several years before I decided that I believed His word is true. Jesus rescued me because He delights in me. Period. Not because it is His job to rescue, or because I was so pathetic that he felt a requirement to rescue me. But because He finds joy in me.

And if you’re reading this thinking “that’s great, Keri, I’m glad He delights in you.” Can I tell you a secret? He delights in you too. Really.

If that is true, then it changes everything. Not only does it set us free. Not only does it change our surroundings. It changes our identity. We’re not cast aside trash that was picked up to make the world look cleaner. We are precious children delighted in by a God who gave everything so that we could be His.

The spacious place of rescue takes some getting used to. As much as we say we want freedom, leaving the prison of familiarity and experiencing grace and love can be scary. The longer we lived trapped the harder it is to live free. The patterns of our past are deeply ingrained in our lives and it takes time and patience to learn a new way to live. Thankfully His delight in us doesn’t stop at rescue. He promises to be faithful to complete every good work He begins in us, even if it takes a really, really long time.

And while the process often does take longer than any of us would like, if we stay surrendered something happens… one day we wake up and realize that we’ve grown accustom to our new surroundings. Freedom is now familiar and the cage of our past no longer feels like home.

I’ve been reading Isaiah in preparation of Easter. Today I returned to one of my favorite chapters and this verse jumped out at me…

“Those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” Isaiah 51:11

They returned. Only this time it was different. This time there was joy. Joy overtook those who He had rescued. And it didn’t matter where they were, sorrow and sighing flew away.

Does that mean that one day we will all be in a place where everything is happy and there is no sadness? Yes it does! In Heaven. But here? On this earth? I don’t think so. There will always be seasons of sadness and difficulties. But in the midst of those seasons there can also be joy for those He has rescued.

So, if you’re feeling trapped today, can I remind you? There is a way out. His name is Jesus. He finds great joy and delight in you. He’s able and willing to rescue. And if you’re in that spacious place of freedom feeling like you’re so out of place and don’t belong… you do belong here! He’s not finished with you. Trust the process. Trust Him. Joy is coming.

What Women Need

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It was a month before the court date that would finalize my divorce and I was having a full fledged panic attack. I put my tennis shoes on and ran out the front door with no thought of where I was going. All I knew was I needed to escape.

A few blocks from my house I grabbed the phone and called you. You were cooking dinner for your husband and girls. But you knew. Knew I needed you. Knew it was bad. “Where are you?” you asked followed by “I’m on my way.”

And you showed up. Found me on the side of the road, sobbing. Put me in your car and drove. I don’t remember where we went. I don’t remember what we said. I just remember that you came. You dropped everything and showed up.

Last night we sat in the nosebleed section of the arena. We were giddy school girls bursting with excitement as she took the stage. We sang and laughed and clapped and screamed. And then I cried. Cried as she sang “some time it lasts in love and some time it hurts instead.” Love had hurt me. Love had left me. And Adele gave words to my breaking heart 5 years ago as I processed divorce.

Last night we sat side by side. Me weeping, and you and Adele singing over me words that used to make my heart ache. Now those words remind me of how far Jesus has carried me.

Friendship is a hard thing. A lot of women aren’t good at it. But you are. You show up. You speak truth. You never judge. You never ask me to be small so you can feel big.

There’s not many women who genuinely cheer when other women succeed. But you tell me that you’re my biggest fan, and I believe you. You pray for me to succeed. And when I do you’re the first one to celebrate. And when I fail you’re the first one to show up with candy and a chick flick and a push to try again tomorrow.

It’s hard for strong women like us to need someone. But sometimes I do. Sometimes I need you to pick me up, dust me off, and tell me to keep killing it because I am fierce and fearless. And when you speak those words over me I don’t feel needy and weak. I feel strong.

Women need friends who build them up. We need friends sitting on the front row cheering wildly. We need someone we can say ALL the things to (yes, even those thing). We need someone who gets that life is a wild adventure to be lived and not a task to endure. We’ve got enough pressure from the world, we don’t need it from our friends.

We just need someone to show up and be real, right in the middle of our mess.

That’s friendship.

And I’m so thankful.

~Keri

Open Wide

img_2463Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.

Psalm 81:10

The last few weeks this verse has come to my mind over and over again. It wasn’t until today that I had time to sit with it and ask God what He was so persistently trying to tell me.

I’ve felt like I haven’t had any words lately. And every time I pray about it this is what I hear from Him; “open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” Yeah. Ok. That’s great, God. Open my mouth and you will fill it, only when I open my mouth no words come out. So… what’s up with that?

Thankfully my love for research has come in handy. According to John Gill there are a few options of what this verse might mean. The first is this: “to open the mouth wide in prayer is to pray with great freedom, to pour out the soul to God, pleading with great strength the promises of God and asking in faith for much.” Or it could mean: “opening the mouth wide in expressions of desire after spiritual food, hungering and thirsting after spiritual things, when the Lord fills or satisfies the mouths of His people with good things. This metaphor seems to be taken from the young birds, which open their mouths, and are filled by the old ones.”

Matthew Henry concurs with this idea saying, “as the young ravens that cry open their mouths wide and the old ones fill them. What is our duty—to raise our expectations from God and enlarge our desires towards Him. There is enough in God to fill our treasures, to replenish every hungry soul, to supply all our wants, to answer all our desires, and to make us completely happy.”

Baby birds demand food all the time. They are persistent about it and loud. When the older bird shows up with food it doesn’t have to wonder who wants to be fed, it’s obvious from the gaping mouths and the piercing cries of “feed me! Feed me!” My problem isn’t a lack of food, but a lack of hunger.

I was talking to someone recently who lives in a county that has never known religious freedom the way we do in America. His friends are starving, literally, for the gospel. They cling to the Word of God as if it is life and breath to them. Because it is. And I’m surrounded by Bibles and books, and commentaries, and have access to an internet that allows me to visit any website I want and find out anything I want about any religion I want. And what do I use the internet for? Pinterest (not that Pinterest is evil. I love Pinterest).

And after hours on Pinterest I tell Jesus I have no words. And He says to me “open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”

Open wide. Hunger. Ask. Receive.

I’m not starving for lack of spiritual food, I’m starving for lack of hunger. Because I’m so surrounded by abundance that I forget my daily need for it. And it’s easy to take for granted what you’ve never had to long for. And it’s easy to think you’re full-grown and can take care of yourself, when the truth is you’re just a fledgling in desperate need of being nurtured.

Sticks and Stones

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It happened more than a year ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

 

We were standing in the hallway. It was Sunday, right before church. I had paused to say hi to a group of ladies when she walked by. The minute she was out of ear shot it started…

 

“Did you hear? Her husband left her.”

“With all those kids? How on earth is she going to pay her bills?”

“I heard he…”

“Well, I heard she…”

 

I wish I could tell you I spoke up for that woman I didn’t even know, that woman who was being stoned by the church ladies’ ugly words, but I didn’t. I was in shock, and I turned and left. Actually left church. Got in my car and drove home, where I sat in my driveway for a good hour and cried my eyes out. The only thing I could think was, “I bet that’s exactly what they said about me when my husband moved out.”

 

I’ll be honest, it was one of the most hurtful moments of my life. To realize that the women I stood in worship with were capable of talking about me and my marriage that way hurt so much. I’ve always wrestled with trusting women, and that day my trust was shattered.

 

I wish I could say that was an isolated incident, but it wasn’t. I could rattle off a dozen other times my heart was squeezed by the words of women who are my sisters in Christ. Women who asked my teenage daughter if the reason her parents divorced was because one of us had an affair. Women who joked about single women only talking to their husbands because they were trying to entice him. Women who quit inviting me to join them for social events. Women who quit talking the moment I walked into the room.

 

The pain of a broken marriage is hard enough. Knowing that others are talking about you and your marriage and speculating about what happened… That’s a whole ‘nother level of hard.

 

{For the record, I was also surrounded by a whole bunch of people who loved my family with the hands and feet of Jesus during those hard days. They were what got me through. (Shout-out to my tribe!!)}

 

One of the painful parts of divorce is the telling of it. The picking up the phone and breaking the news to family and friends. Over and over and over you pick up the phone and tell the story. And the bigger your circle of people, the more times you have to have that hard conversation. Add to that a job where you invite your entire community to be a part of your life… The publicness of my divorce was something that brought shame to me for a very long time. I felt so unworthy of anything, especially being used by God. I felt disqualified. Like I had let everyone down. And for a long time, all I wanted to do was crawl in a hole and hide.

 

How do you share the darkest moments of your life when those moments are tied to precious children who are just trying to recover from their lives being ripped apart? How do you tell your whole world that “divorce” now defines you while protecting your kids from the whispers and stares from that world?

 

For me, I decided to be quiet, and when I did tell my story I was very intentional about how and where and with who. Because my kids are old enough to be on Facebook, and they read my blog, and they listen to their mom on the radio. Everything I’ve posted about my divorce, or talked about publicly, has been with their blessing. Because they deserve to not be blindsided by a social media post, or a conversation in the hall, or a friend asking them about something I said.

 

Being on the receiving end of gossip is not a fun place to be. It’s a lot more fun to be the one dishing the gossip. And I’ll confess, I’m not at all innocent when it comes to running my mouth about someone when I should shut up and pray, or bring them a casserole, or offer to babysit, or anything other than find pleasure in their pain. I am guilty. And I am ashamed of my guilt. {Father, forgive me.}

 

I’ve been on Facebook tonight. I’ve seen the posts. I’ve seen the jokes. Another public marriage has come to an end. There are kid involved. Kids who are used to mom and dad being in the spotlight for their talent, are now seeing their parents’ names in the news with words attached it like “affair” “custody” “separated” “divorce”. And it doesn’t matter how much money they make, or how many awards they’ve received, because at the end of the day there is a mom and a dad who have to try to explain to their kids why everything is about to change in a really big way. And the last thing that mom and that dad needs to spend energy on is their public image. So they are being silent, while we are making their tragedy into memes and jokes and posting them all over the internet.

 

To be honest, I hesitated in writing this, because I don’t want to talk about them at all. I don’t want to add to the noise of those who can’t quit talking about them.

 

So, let’s not talk about them and their marriage or their divorce. Let’s talk about us. No, not even us. I want to talk about me.

 

My heart hurts. First of all because I too often allow myself to get pulled in to the gossip. I make excuses for why it’s okay for me to talk about people. It’s not okay. It’s really not.

 

I’m also hurting because I do a really lousy job of loving people in the midst of their pain. I’ve been loved so well, and I want to extend that love to others, but I get so wrapped up in my own world that I don’t make time to love.

 

And I’m hurting because there’s a whole bunch of kids out there who really need the adults in their lives to step up and act like adults. It doesn’t matter who did what. Our job as parents isn’t to defend ourselves or cast blame. We can’t allow our pain to overshadow what our kids need. And what they need is for us to honor the other parent both publicly and privately.

 

These things are hard. Impossible even. But for Christ. But for the Spirit of God that lives in us. Let’s let E! New and Perez Hilton be the gossips. Let’s be different. Let’s love.

 

~Keri

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

John 8

The Reckoning

Last week I sat in a dark auditorium and watched my daughter and four of her friends perform a one act play that she had written. I always cry when any of my kids performs, whether it’s singing in the choir, acting in a play, or chasing a ball in sports. I just can’t keep the tears at bay when I watch my kids doing their thing.

But this day the tears streaking down my face were from more than just pride, my heart was breaking. The play is titled “Not for the Perfect” and it’s the story of a picture perfect family that was anything but. It’s the story of parents and kids who were trapped in a cycle of abuse, addiction, and abandonment. It was a hard story to watch. Harder still knowing that my daughter and her friends used stories from their own real lives as inspiration for the play.

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That night before bed my daughter and I were talking about the show. I was telling her how proud I was of her. For her talent to write and perform, but also for her bravery to stand in her school in front of her peers and tell them that her family isn’t perfect… that she knows fear… that she’s felt rejection… and that she wants to be someone they can talk to when they feel like they’ve lost all hope.

We both had tears streaming down our faces by this time. And then my daughter said to me the words that has made every hard day in the last two decades of my life worth it. She said, “Thank you for breaking the cycle. Thank you for staying. Thank you for always making us feel loved.”

In Brené Brown’s book Rising Strong she gives some back story on her childhood and how her family grew and changed over the years. She talked about how as a child her quest for knowledge led her constantly to the dictionary or the encyclopedia for more information. That she wanted to know more about everything, except emotion. When I read those words I couldn’t breathe. That was me as a child. An unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a complete ignorance of emotion.

Brené said, “I grew up with a dry emotional well. We didn’t discuss feelings. We didn’t do vulnerability. If we happened to get so overwhelmed by emotion that tears or a look of fear physically breached through our tough veneer, we were promptly and not-too-subtly reminded that emotions don’t fix problems- they make them worse. Doing, not feeling, fixes problems.”

I never knew that other families operated on that principle. But I knew that mine did. As a child it often felt like the only acceptable emotion was anger. And anger scared me. So I didn’t feel. I just tried to be quiet and hide.

The problem with that way of thinking is that avoiding emotion leads to us avoiding life. It leads to a life of running and hiding. Wives hide from husbands and kids. Husbands run from their families. We all hide what we’re feeling. We run from our emotions. We shut down and shut others out. And when we quit running we look up to find that we’re all alone.

When I became a mom I made a promise. I promised I’d never run. That whenever my kids needed me I would be there. That I would talk to them. About everything. And anything. That I would be honest with them. That I would let them see me cry. That I wouldn’t hide my moments of fear from them. That I would be present in their lives. And let me tell you, keeping this promise has been an all-out war. And I’m not ashamed to say that I have lost so many battles through the year. There were so many moments when depression and fear and anxiety kept me from being the mom I wanted to be. I had seasons of running and hiding. But I always came back. I always reengaged.

Brené’s mother finally realized that in order to engage with her children she first had to engage with her emotions. That decision sent her to counseling and some hard soul searching. Brené said about that season, “My mother, who was living on Merit cigarettes, Tab soda, and her survival instincts, saw her emotional reckoning as a life-or-death situation.” Yes! Isn’t it true? I’ve felt that time and time again. That the attacks that are threatening to destroy me must be reckoned with. That the situation is life or death. And that it’s not only my life or death that hangs in the balance, but my children’s as well.

In my daughter’s play she writes, “It’s amazing isn’t it? The power that fathers hold and they don’t even realize it. They don’t realize that everything they do molds you, scars you.”

I have scars from my parents. Most of us do. I know that my children have scars from me too. But, there’s a difference between a flesh wound and a nearly fatal blow.

Reckoning is hard stuff. It’s easier to run and hide from life when it gets hard. Facing hard emotions is never easy. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it to pay for counseling for years and cry your eyes out to your best friend. It’s worth it to suck it up and fight when you want to pack a bag and run. It’s worth it to go to seminars, and retreats, and allow yourself to be mentored. It’s worth it to break the cycle. It’s worth it even if you 18 year old daughter never sits on your bed and says “thank you.”

It’s worth the reckoning.

It’s worth the fight.

It’s worth the tears.

Break the cycle. You can. I did.

 

~Keri