Friday, September 28, 2012

Explanation: Must You Break Me Before You Fix Me?

First of all, it is important when reading poetry to realize that the title is as important as the piece itself.  When someone titles their poem, they are giving you the context within which to understand everything that follows.
Secondly, I am explaining these poems in the order I wrote them.  I posted them in the opposite order because I thought they were easier to swallow that way.  Interesting that the emotions became easier to handle as I wrote.  I guess that's why writing is therapeutic for me.

What is being said in the title of this piece?  Despite feelings of brokenness and a lack of answers, God's ultimate goal is always to make us whole in Christ.  He is in the work of fixing us, even if that first requires some breaking.  He must break what is in order to create what will be.

What is written in bold italics in the lines of the poem itself.  Normal font indicates explanation.
Is it possible to be broken beyond repair? 
The pit of my stomach's become a lump in my throat.
I can't swallow as the chills fill my body.
Is this forever?  Am I forever?
I'd rather not be forever
Because it seems like the chasm in my heart
     is growing, not shrinking. 
The poem starts with the haunting question, "Is it possible to be broken beyond repair?".  I was feeling this in the pit of my stomach which resulted in a lump in my throat and chills in my body (literally), and ultimately the statement that I would rather not be forever if eternity will be spent feeling more and more broken and torn rather than less.  Obviously the answer to this is Jesus, but despite knowing that in my head, my heart wasn't feeling it.  I wasn't feeling any wholeness or peace, which led to the next set of lines.

I thought I had the anecdote, but I jumped that boat
Only to jump back in with more questions than answers,
More holes than patches.
Will I sink for eternity, knowing less the more I learn,
Making more but with less to earn?
"The anecdote" meaning the fix to this problem of brokenness.  I thought I knew how to become a whole person, but sitting in this period of darkness and questioning it doesn't seem possible that its true.  So I've "jumped that boat only to jump back in with more questions than answers".  I don't know about you, but there are times in my life, and this was one of them, when I have more questions for God than I feel I have answers.  Like there's more holes in my heart, soul, and mind than there are "patches".  Again, obviously the answer is to do away with the patches and embrace new creation instead.  I don't need to be patched, I need to be made whole.  Which points back to the title "Must you break me before you fix me".  In the end that's the answer (we need God to save us) but this poem isn't about answers, its about brokenness and pain.

Is it me that's broken, or the world around me?
Is it me that's sinking, or the world around me?
Or both

God we need a savior!

This line is meant to be read with an attitude and not as a prayer, much as someone would say "God I need a cigarette".  But that's the irony of the whole poem, we turn to so many things to ease our brokenness, when ultimately we need a savior, and that Savior has been provided.  I must mention, for honesty's sake, that I added the last line when I posted this; it wasn't in my original poem.  Sometimes our emotions are too raw even for poetry....

Thursday, September 27, 2012

My Life

I've been meaning to write a qualifier for my last three posts but haven't found the time.  My dad always said "We don't find time, we make time."  So I've decided to make this time to write.
Although the statement isn't necessarily true; God has made time and given it to us to use wisely.  So I guess I'll tell my children "We don't have time, we use time" which doesn't at all communicate the point, so I'll probably revert to what my dad always said.
Anyways, I digress.  Someone sent me some reflections on their life today in response to the question "How has God been working in your life?"  I hope they won't mind me sharing this, but I won't use any names so it could be anyone.
They shared that God has been seemingly silent, and then connected this with Fall and the seasonal depression they struggle with every year.  It reminded me of my own seasonal depression, which I don't think I've posted about before.  Typically I don't think about it or notice it until late November or the beginning of December, when it gets really heavy, but after reading their thoughts it reminded me of my own reflections in the past few weeks.

Another friend posted on facebook two weeks ago "What to do when heart and mind are too full for words..." to which I replied, quoting a Bright Eyes song, "When you can't compose yourself it's best to compose a poem.  An honest verse of longing or a simple song of hope."
After giving them that advice, I decided to follow it myself, which resulted in the three poems that I posted over the course of the next few days.  I received one worried call from a friend, so I'll assure you all, I really am okay.  God is still good and is still the Lord of my life, and no matter what I've ever gone through in my life (which has been a lot at times) self-harm and suicide have never had a place in my mind.  So don't worry about me, I am okay and will continue to be okay, but we all have things we wrestle with and feel the ups and downs of life.  Consider my poems a resource to turn to when your own heart feels broken beyond repair, or when you feel like no matter which way you turn you aren't turning to God and maybe even forget how to turn to Him, or no matter what you say you aren't truly expressing what's inside and are starting to question whether you even can express what you're thinking, or feeling, or just what you are.

In any case, my thoughts, feelings, and poems are what they are.  They are an expression of myself, a glimpse into my soul, and ultimately they were (and are) my cries to my Father who sees all, knows all, and cares for all.

Having said all that, because of questions, I will break all rules of art and poetry and do something that I hate to even think about doing.  Rather than leaving my poetry to be what it is, and leaving you to understand it as you will, I will be writing over the course of the next few...posts the thoughts behind what I said.  I'll take my poems line by line and explain what I meant for those who struggle to understand poetry.

For those of you who do understand and appreciate poetry for what it is, you may want to ignore the next few posts.  And for those of you who understand poetry much better than me, you may want to ignore my last three posts as you may not even consider them poems.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Must You Break Me Before You Fix Me?

Is it possible to be broken beyond repair?
The pit of my stomach's become a lump in my throat.
I can't swallow as the chills fill my body.
Is this forever?  Am I forever?
I'd rather not be forever
Because it seems like the chasm in my heart
     is growing, not shrinking.

I thought I had the anecdote, but I jumped that boat
Only to jump back in with more questions than answers,
More holes than patches.
Will I sink for eternity, knowing less the more I learn,
Making more but with less to earn?

Is it me that's broken, or the world around me?
Is it me that's sinking, or the world around me?
Or both

God we need a savior!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Prayer: Clothing Spirit in Words

Nothing in my heart can speak.
My mouth is dry and when I open it babble pours forth
But why open it if I don't make sense
And can't communicate the nonsense
That is my thoughts?

Sometimes I think emotions,
But emotions can't be thought
So there's no words to express what I'm
thinking, or feeling, or both, or neither.

If it can't be said is it really a thought?
If it can't be thought is it really an emotion?
If there's no emotion, am I really feeling the
nonsense coming from my mouth but not my heart?

I'm emptier now than when I started,
so maybe my hand created an avenue for the unthinkable emotions
But what I really want isn't to be emptied, but to be filled.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Poem: Idolatry

What I need now is empty, quiet peace;
Distraction from everything.
Shaken from my preoccupation with frenzied commotion, confusing amusement.

I turn to idols to help rescue me from idolatry,
Trading idol for idol til I'm a mess of broken dreams,
With a broken heart that bleeds
Poison I drink to give myself strength
To keep living my death, living my death in agony.

I just wanna get away, wanna leave it all behind.
But when I run I find
It all follows,
Or perhaps I just couldn't leave the hollow
deceptions behind.

Maybe I deceive myself when I run,
Because its not about what you're leaving but where you're going
And as long as I'm obsessed with what I left or want to leave
Am I really leaving or even wanting to leave?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: "Leaders Who Last" by Dave Kraft

Leaders Who LastLeaders Who Last by Dave Kraft

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dave Kraft obviously has a passion for leadership and the desire to see passionate leaders developed within the church. I cringe at his obvious assumption that the pastor is (and ought to be) the main leader within the local church body. I believe that pastors can be leaders, but I think that pastors can also be teachers, preachers, counselors, etc... What I take away from this book is the truth that what the church needs most is to make disciples, followers of Christ, who will then turn around and make more disciples. In this way we see that our primary goal is the development of leaders, not only followers. This responsibility does not lie only on the pastor, but on the congregation as a whole. And so I see this not only being a book for full-time pastoral staff, I believe that this is a book that any church leader, any Christian, can read and learn from.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Growing in Wisdom, Living a Life of Love and Faithfulness

God is an adoptive God, often favoring those who are cast aside or considered of lesser value.  We see this with Jacob, David, and Moses, to name a few.  All throughout Scripture, highlighted in Jesus’ lineage, we see God choosing to work through and use those you would least expect.

I’ve been struck by 1 Samuel 2:12-26 where the sons of Eli, the priest, are compared with the young boy Samuel.  Samuel was not a priest, in fact he wasn’t even a Levite, the tribe of Israel who aided the priests at the temple.  Samuel was the son of a nobody Ephraimite, but as we read his story we see that God was preparing him to do great things.  Eli’s sons were slowly becoming worse and worse, following their own hearts rather than God’s, while Samuel was instead growing in stature and favor with the Lord and men (1 Samuel 2:25-26).

This is an interesting phrase, “he grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”  We see this repeated of Jesus in Luke 2:52.  We also find this phrase in Proverbs 3 along with some instructions.  “My son, do not forget my teaching… Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.”  This father goes on to say “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding….Do not be wise in your own eyes…Honor the Lord with your wealth…Do not despise the Lord’s discipline.”

And so we see that the ones who want to be like Jesus, the ones who want to be used by God to do great things for His kingdom, are the ones who are willing to surrender themselves to the will of God, to lay aside their own agenda and pick up God’s agenda, to trust that God knows what He is doing, to listen to instruction and learn from those around them, and who ultimately honor God whether he blesses them with wealth or grows them through discipline.  God does not use the most powerful and pleasing; He chooses to work through the humble and submitted, the loving and faithful.

What part of God’s will do you need to submit to today? Are you growing in wisdom, living a life of love and faithfulness?
How can we encourage each other, and specifically our youth, to be wise people of humble submission rather than brash people of power and compulsion?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Questions that Shape our Thoughts and Actions

There are two foundational questions that I continually encounter in my spiritual journey: Who is God? and What does He want with me?  In fact, I would argue that most, if not all, disagreements between individual Christians and groups of believers ultimately lie in one of these two categories.  Also, as I look at Scripture it seems that most, if not all, passages deal with one of these two questions.

Interestingly, I find that at different times in my life I deal with one of these questions more than the other.  There are times that I am literally consumed with the question of "Who is God?" to the point that I am no longer being effective in my relationships and living for him, and other moments when I am so consumed with wondering "What does God want with me?" that I lose all focus on who He is and why I can even ask this second question in the first place.

And while these two questions, as extremes, can sometimes lead in two different directions, it occurred to me today that they can only be answered in relationship to each other.  My understanding of who God is is meaningless unless followed with the question of what God wants with me, and my understanding of what God wants with me is meaningless unless tethered to my understanding of who God is.

I began reflecting on this because I've realized recently that I've become so consumed by my day-to-day activities, so focused on living in right relationship with others, so caught up in living in a God honoring way that I have ceased to ask the question of "Who is God?".  The deepest desire of my heart is no longer to know God, to love Him and seek Him above all else.  My desire for righteous living started as a desire to grow God's kingdom, to honor and please him, but somewhere along the line I forgot about God and simply started living for the sake of living.  I believe that this is corrected by turning to the other question, the one I haven't been asking, but in doing that I must not be careful to so turn away from considering myself and who I ought to be that I forsake the second greatest commandment.

Where are you at?  Do you spend more time asking yourself who God is or what you ought to be doing?  Do you have a desire to know God and things about God but find that you don't really care to live for Him when it comes down to the details of life?  Or are you so caught up in living life that you no longer care who God is or how His desires relate to those details of life you are caught up in?

Return to Scripture, where we find God answering both questions with equal clarity, care, and passion.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Knee Deep

I fear I'll only go as deep as the water I stand in. Before you hit the deep end you first need to stand in the shallow, but what if that becomes so comfortable that I never move on? What if the deep end becomes so unnerving, the possibility of slipping below the waterline and never returning, that I start to see deep waters as not only dangerous but off limits?
How deep is the water you are standing in? Are you a toe into Christ? Did you dive in head first?
Sometimes I find my body so wet that I start to retreat to shallower water, to puddles and tubs, rather than plunging into pools, rivers, and oceans.  Sometimes shallow water splashed all over the body feels much better than diving into the deep, mysterious waters and actually remaining there, swimming around, and taking it all in.
I don't want to remain as shallow as the water I'm standing in, I want to go deep.  Thankfully God's Word goes deep, unfortunately I often make it shallow.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Levels of Communication: Why we're disconnected in a connected world

I'm reading a book that suggests that there are 5 levels of communication, with level 5 being the least communicative of the inner self and level 1 being the most communicative.  I've tweaked their thoughts a bit but it has brought me to some rather interesting thoughts which I will share at the end.

Level 5 - cliche conversation.  "Hi, how are you?"  Nothing is really given of the self at this level.  No risk is taken; yet some interaction has taken place.
Level 4 - reporting facts.  At this level, virtually nothing of the self is communicated.  All that is learned about the person is what he or she observed or heard.
Level 3 - reporting thoughts.  Risks are taken at this level because our personal beliefs can draw anger, hurt, and other reactions squarely at us.
Level 2 - reporting emotions.  This is "gut level" communication, the one where the greatest risks are felt.  Healthy group communication requires this level of sharing on a consistent basis.
Level 1 - perfect, mutual, empathetic understanding.  All of the other levels of communication are based upon one person and their willingness for openness, however this level requires consistent, open, mutual communication between more than one person so that these people begin to understand and empathize with each other.

I found this to be very insightful and helpful in thinking about communication; I believe I have observed these levels of communication within my own relationships and can attest to their accuracy.

Now, on to the interesting thoughts that this raised in my mind.  I have observed and heard others observe that as a culture we have picked up a habit of prefacing thoughts or feelings with "I think" or "I feel".  We no longer just say what we believe or what we are feeling, rather we couch our thoughts and feelings as that.  It seems to me that this type of communication releases a person from the risks associated with opening themselves up and sharing of their inner self.  If I say "People shouldn't eat desserts after 9pm" it opens me up to argument and attack, however if I say "I think people shouldn't eat desserts after 9pm" I have deflected that attack because rather than stating what I think I have stated the fact that I think it, and who can argue with that?
Same with our feelings.  Rather than saying "You hurt me when you said ..." we say "I feel like you were trying to hurt me" or "I felt hurt when you said..."  It is a subtle change, and one that may seem insignificant, but we all do it; I've noticed that virtually everyone will couch thoughts and feelings with an "I think" or "I feel".

Now, I'm going to connect these two thoughts and this is where I get.  In the past 30-50 years, with the advance of psychology and the encouragement to share our feelings, our culture has become much more open about our inner selves.  We are more willing to express our thoughts and feelings, to engage in what would appear to be level 2 and 3 communication.  And this should lead to vulnerability, to openness, and ultimately to change (whenever we open ourselves up to those around us we give them the ability to speak into and change our inner being), however, I think that we have created defenses around this.  Rather than honestly opening up and sharing our thoughts and feelings whatever the risks, we turn our thoughts and feelings into facts.

Rather than saying what I am thinking, I communicate it as external facts. Its the difference between saying "The fact is, I think the U.S. is the leading cause of world hunger."  and "The U.S. is the leading cause of world hunger"  In the second I have revealed a bit of my inner workings, my thoughts and feelings on the issue, which opens me to ridicule or attack, but in the second I have turned my thoughts and feelings into an external fact and reported that fact to you instead, thus moving our communication to the fourth level rather than the third or second where it could be.

We can see this all around in our society.  Even in facebook statuses, people take what could and is very personal and display it as a 200 character fact for the world to see.  Suddenly their emotions aren't as raw or their thoughts as real, they're just facts on a page that we engage and then move on.

Does your speech reflect your real thoughts and emotions?  Are you willing and able to engage in deep, raw, real revelation of your inner self?  May you grow in your vulnerability and willingness to share your inner thoughts and feelings with those closest to you, thereby growing the depth of your relationships and allowing for deeper and longer lasting change in who you are.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Addressing Difficult Situations - Proverbs 3

We all face difficult situations throughout our lives; the kind where wake up in the middle of the night asking yourself, "what am I even supposed to do?"  I had a difficult situation this week, there were no middle of the night episodes, but I did find myself thinking about it several times a day trying to think of resolutions and ways to work through it.  In the midst of all of this I read Proverbs 3 (I've decided to start reading Proverbs the other week and am only in chapter 3...) and found it to relate quite well to all of this.  You can read the whole chapter if you like, but I'm going to write up a few things that I found to be especially helpful to me this week as I tried to discern the best approach to a situation that may not have a best approach.

"Let love and faithfulness never leave you."  Its easy when addressing something or someone to only see the bad in it/them and to therefore treat it/them as a problem.  However, even when someone has screwed up or when a situation is a mess we must approach it with love and faithfulness.  Are you treating those around you, even those you don't like or those who annoy you, with love AND faithfulness?  Do you just stick around for the good times, do you only love in the good times, or are you consistent no matter how others treat you?  According to this passage when you live in this way you will win favor and a good name from both God and men.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding"  If you've been in Christian circles for any period of time you've probably heard this verse multiple times, you may even have it memorized.  But this really took on new meaning for me this week in dealing with something that was beyond my own understanding.  Interestingly, though, not only are we to trust in Him, but when He comes through we are to "acknowledge Him in all our ways" and if we do that "He will make our paths straight."  It takes a lot of pressure off when we realize that if we trust God and acknowledge that we can't handle things on our own that He will take us up on that and give us straight paths to walk in.

"Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil."  Sometimes its easy, when faced with a difficult situation that we don't know how to deal with, to bend the rules a little or to act in ways we wouldn't normally act.  Sometimes, when we don't know how to address a situation in a healthy way we can come up with these terribly creative ideas of how to handle it that in the end do more harm than good.  But God wants us to know, it is better to fear the Lord and refrain from evil or crooked ways of dealing with things and appear a fool, than to look wise and handle things in a perverse way.

What are you facing today or this week?  Are there things that you don't know how to address or work through?  Are there difficult situations or difficult people that you have to deal with?  Well remember these things, keep them in the forefront of your mind.  Trust in the Lord rather than yourself.  If there's something that you think would be a good idea, or a good way of dealing with it, take some time to pray and reflect on what the Bible teaches in relation to your actions.  And overall, be sure to live and act in a loving and faithful way that ultimately brings the glory back to God, not you.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Life Perspective

I've noticed a shift recently in the way that I talk.  I find myself talking with much less excitement and passion, it seems I have a much less optimistic outlook on life, like when I talk about a subject I feel more dread than excitement, and I struggle to have things to say in conversation. It seems to me that I've been quieter and less contributive to thoughts and ideas as a creative member of a group, instead I often feel like an outsider in groups and like I do more to correct others ideas than to come up with my own.
It has been bothering me greatly because I've always thought of myself as a rather upbeat and energetic person, and I am in positions where creativity, originality, spontaneity, and energy are very important.
Then today, another current trend in the way I talk and think became apparent to me, and I wonder whether they may be related.  The "Good" side of my family got together for Christmas today (we actually had a white Christmas :) ) and so there were lots of questions like "How's the new job? How's married life? How's the apartment?" etc, etc... and I found myself talking about a lot of negative things.  I mean, I told stories of some good things and relayed the fact that everything has been amazing and things are going great, but beyond that I realized that most of the everyday type of stories i told were about problems, bad things that had happened to us, and annoying things that people do or had done.  And the thing is, I didn't have to tell those stories.  Yes, there have been problems and annoyances, but there's also been a lot of fun times and great things that have happened.
I've always been one to let the bad go and focus on the good, but here I was mostly telling the bad stories.  And I wonder if that's why I find less excitement and energy in my voice, because the things im talking about are depressing, not exciting.  I wonder if that's why I critique and piggy back on others ideas and struggle to make decisions, because im seeing the problems and drawbacks rather than the possibilities.
The other night, after my computer contracted a virus and me and Dana were both trying to maintain a positive outlook, I looked at the verse for the day on my phone which was:
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
And it seemed fitting.  I think that maybe this is what I've been missing.  Perhaps I haven't been joyful always because I've been lacking continual prayer and thanksgiving.
So I am going to work on telling good stories; on not letting my life be defined by the things that go wrong but by the things that go right. It will take some conscious effort, but I think that overall it is worth it.  What about you?  Do you find that most of your stories are about struggle and hardship or do you find yourself telling stories of blessing and success?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Psalm 73

I love this Psalm, it carried me through at least one semester at West Chester University.  And seeing it put to music like this, it brings the message home even more clearly.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Giving from the Piggy Bank

For the light in heart, from Christianity Today:

In our town's elementary school at the beginning of the year, the school secretary routinely collects the lunch money from the new kindergartners. This solves the problem of lost money. But for nervous 5-year-olds, it took a few days to understand what was happening.
For two days, the secretary would come into the room and ask in a loud voice, "Does anybody have any lunch money for me?" Her question was met with no response.
On the third day, one little boy came in at the bell, walked hesitantly to the teacher's desk, held out his hand and whispered, "Here is lunch money from my piggy bank for the poor lady nobody gives money to."
—June Spivey, Christian Reader, Vol. 34.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Is Sleeping In a Sin?

This is taken from George Muller's autobiography:
I want to encourage all believers to get into the habit of rising early to meet with God.  how much time should b allowed for rest?  No rule of universal application can be given because all persons do not require the same amount of sleep.  Also the same persons, at different times, according to the strength or weakness of their body, may require more or less.  most doctors agree that healthy men do not require more than between six or seven hours of sleep, and females need no more than seven or eight hours.
Children of God should be careful not to allow themselves too little sleep since few men can do with less than six hours of sleep and still be well in body and mind.  As a young man, before I went to the university, I went to bed regularly at ten and rose at four, studied hard, and was in good health.  Since I have allowed myself only about seven hours, I have been much better in body and in nerves than when I spent eight or eight and a half hours in bed.
Someone may ask, "But why should I rise early?"  To remain too long in bed is a waste of time.  Wasting time is unbecoming a saint who is bought by the precious blood of Jesus.  His time and all he has is to be used for the Lord.  If we sleep more than is necessary for the refreshment of the body, it is wasting the time the Lord has entrusted us to be used for His glory, for our own benefit, and for the benefit of the saints and unbelievers around us.
Just as too much food injures the body, the same is true regarding sleep.  Medical persons would readily agree that lying longer in bed than is necessary to strengthen the body actually weakens it.
It also injures the soul.  Lying too long in bed not merely keeps us from giving the most precious part of the day to prayer and meditation, but this sloth leads also to many other evils.  Anyone who spends one, two, or three hours in prayer and meditation before breakfast will soon discover the beneficial effect early rising has on the outward and inward man.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Love of a Father - The Response of a Son

Credit for photo
Ephesians 5:1-2
If you know the love of God, then imitate Him, even as a child who knows the love of their father will imitate him.  So live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  Our service for God should not be an act of duty, but a response to love.
(My paraphrase)