Becoming Our True Selves

The Work of Grace.pngA few months ago my husband and I celebrated 37 years of marriage. Quite a feat considering where I came from: broken home and a long lineage of divorce. I am sure our marriage set some kind of Fleig family record. Yet the most incredible, miraculous thing in all this is not our longevity; it’s that I am not the same person this man married so long ago. And I don’t mean the kind of change as in getting older, more mature (although that has happened too). I brought many things into my marriage, broken, wounded things, that had become ingrained patterns and rhythms of relating and living. These things don’t heal on their own or simply over time. Some people can go their whole lives and never receive healing from the wounds of their past.

But I was fortunate enough to marry a man who became a safe place for all my brokenness to come out. He was a man who steadfastly “out-loved” the unfinished places of my soul. His unwavering love created the safe space for healing to take place in big and small ways, day in and day out. I think this is what marriage is supposed to do. God uses our marriage to “save” us; to heal us; to restore our souls. To redeem our lives from the wounds we’ve received from the world. If marriage brings out the worst in you, it’s doing its job. (I know that sounds crazy!) Having the worst in us come out, however, is not as an opportunity to make excuses, blame our spouse or condemn ourselves but that we might come to terms with the brokenness still in us and perhaps in this sheltered place reach for healing. For what remains hidden cannot be healed. And it’s in the safety of marriage these things can be offered to God for God to do what only He can do.

Too often we think of marriage as an end game. “I want my marriage to be…” I think when think in terms of “achieving” a desired state, we miss all the kinds of healings that come everyday in our ordinary moments. Often our view for our marriage is “out there” and we tenaciously pursue an imaginary static ideal, (like “happiness”) all the while missing the daily transformative opportunities to live with patience, walk in grace, and extend forgiveness. In the same way, when we approach the spiritual life this way, as a static “place” to be achieved, we simply focus on the techniques, methods and programs to produce or reach this desired state. When we do, we can miss the healing, correction, joy, strength…the moment-by-moment, creative work of God in our lives. Marriage, like salvation, is much more about the process of becoming (not perfecting); becoming our truest selves in the safety of love.

Western culture’s linear thinking predominantly focuses on an end goal, often being absent in the present moment and the grace it offers. We hang on for retirement but miss the redemptive purposes embedded in showing up everyday on our jobs. We try to just get through school or through our kid’s preschool years or put in our time serving at church and can remain unaware that in the struggles, the sacrifices and the momentary joys lie our own healing.

Perfectionism (another “end game”) blows past the small beauty and the wholeness life offers in the mundaneness of our daily lives and declares at the end of the day we are failures for coming up short yet again. And we are robbed of living with any kind of abandon, adventure or relief dogged with the nagging voice that we should have done better. We vow tomorrow we will do better and determine to double our efforts. (I am exhausted just writing this!)

The work of grace in our lives is nestled in the ins and outs of our ordinary lives. When we begin to view life (marriage, vocation, parenting, etc.) as a dynamic, on-going process of transformation, I think that’s when we begin to discover all the ways God is moving through our lives and how we are being invited to respond. Surprisingly, it’s then we can release our own plans and expectations and pay attention to what is actually unfolding within us.

 

 

Posted in Healing, Marriage, Spiritual Formation, Uncategorized, Woundedness | 1 Comment

More Than Virtuous; Way More

 

Woman buildingFor years I’ve been at odds the with Proverbs 31 woman. To be honest, the way she has been preached as the over-achiever role model for all women, simply drives me crazy. What if I do not get up before dawn, or make a profit to buy an investment, or make my own bedspreads, or wear the best and latest fashions (especially when my husband comes home at night), am I a pathetic failure? Seriously, who can attain to those standards? Or better yet, who wants to?

So my options were that I either have to dismiss this woman (and the passage of Scripture) as non-relevant (“She has never taken an iPhone away from a rebellious teenager”) or I have to admit I didn’t have a right perception or full understanding of the Scripture…or the heart of God. Presenting an elusive role model which results in personal self-debasement surely cannot be the intent of either.

Proverbs 31: “Who can find a virtuous woman; her price is far above rubies!” Various Bible translations have used different words to describe this virtuous woman, such as noble character, excellent, capable, and good but none seem to give full weight to the original Hebrew word. The Hebrew word used to describe this woman is most often translated (56 times) as “army” and 37 times as “man of valor”. Warrior, valiant, strength, power, might, strong. In fact, this is the same word to describe David’s mighty men!

She is not just capable or good, she is like an army, a force to be reckoned with and fierce protector; a mighty warrior who does the hard thing when it is needed.

Then I reread the passage and saw it with new eyes. The language is that of the dailyness of life over a lifetime. The description is that of strength, courage, and tenacity in the realities of whatever daily life we call ours. We do not spin wool and flax, or make belted linen garments to sell to merchants (or, perhaps we do and sell them on Etsy!) but we also drive kids (and their 3 friends) to soccer and stand in the rain for 2 hours. And when he/she misses the winning goal, we hug them and tell them how proud we are. We put apples in lunch boxes and make spreadsheets of our finances and build houses for Habitat for Humanity.

It takes courage to have the hard conversation with teenager or confront an obstinate boss or lazy employee.

It takes patience to respond with dignity to the person who tells you you should get a real job or that ‘their” child walked before they turned one.

It takes strength pursue a career, practice self-care and to help with homework.

It takes a warrior for a single mom (with the weight of the world on her shoulders) to show up to work day after day; to fight discouragement and still find the energy to show up at the school science fair.

It takes tenacity to instill goodness in our children and eternal vigilance to teach them to pick up after themselves.

It takes a valiant heart in the face of loss to hold on to hope for the future and to believe this is not the end of the story.

It takes unwavering trust to believe that all this matters.

It takes faith that a life well-lived reaches farther than we could imagine and holds a place in the kingdom of God.

 

 

 

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A Resurrection People

broken is not the end“We should cut it down,” he said, referring to the cherry tree after this harsh winter. I almost agreed. But then…I also understand that what appears to be dead can still possess deep , hidden life yet to burst forth. It’s just that we are too quick to cut it down and we can blow past what will yet be.

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” This saying of Jesus was so basic to his kingdom that it shows up in each of the four Gospels, and twice in Luke (Matthew 10:39, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:23-24, Luke 17:33).

This statement by Jesus is one of the great paradoxes of our faith and life in the kingdom…that in order to really live, we must die.

It is a process is important to pay attention to.

This process of dying and rising, death and new life is at the heart of the Christian faith.

For example: Baptism portrays this kind of paradox…where we “die” with Christ and identify in his heath in the submerging under water and we are “raised” to new life in our coming out of the water.

We also see it all around us: A few days ago we entered into the season of spring. The death of winter gives way to the new life of spring in glorious ways.

Life…death…resurrection. We see it in our own lives.

Even in our spiritual journey when God begins to do a new thing in us, old things must pass away. In order to fully experience in the abundant life Jesus offers there is much in us that needs to die; false attachments, greed, anger, impatience and stinginess.

EVERYDAY…We experience all kinds of dyings and risings.

Life is full of hurts and loss: losses of health and youth; unfairness, disappointments, shattered dreams, and unreached potential. We grieve the pain and losses in our lives. This presents us with a choice. The same choice like that of Mary Magdala on Easter morning wanting desperately to cling to the Jesus she had known rather than accepting the resurrected one.

We too can cling to the old and refuse to receive the new life Jesus offers.

The second choice is to release the old life.

But, unless we are able to release our cherished idea of what could or should have been, we will never be able to receive the new life that Jesus offers in their place.

But…Dying is never easy….and it’s messy business. It feels like we are coming undone.

We are afraid to see the brokenness that’s still such a part of our lives. It’s amazing what we will do to avoid or escape the pain; you can’t escape brokenness; when we try…we become the walking death.

Culture tells us to escape from brokenness…we try to protect ourselves; hide, we numb, we deny. So much dysfunction in our lives comes from trying escape broken things.

Our brokenness is not a disqualifier to abundant life. Broken is not the end of anything; it’s the beginning.  If we avoid the brokenness we will never experience the resurrection.

All of this will take trust; TRUST that in the midst of brokenness there is a resurrection happening; Christ is bringing new life that you could never imagine

Think about your own life. What is a dying or rising that you have experienced today, this week, this year? What new thing is God doing in your life that requires some old things to pass away?

Someone has said that the spiritual life is not a thousand victories but a thousand surrenders; i.e. little deaths.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “Nothing that has not died will be resurrected.” 

Resurrection, it’s not merely a belief, but a way of living, the only way to truly really live. It’s one of the greatest testimony to the world that God is real and enters into our broken world to redeem us.

We are a resurrection people!

Every story is a resurrection story. Your story is a resurrection story.

No matter bleak or devastating it looks….like the day Jesus died…disciples had given up all hope…they had no idea resurrection was right around the corner

We learn from Jesus that new life can come from death, that we can find meaning in difficult times; that our loss no longer has the last word… that endings are but embryos of new life…and out of what seems to ruin our lives, our very rescue can begin.

 

 

 

 

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Observing Lent

lentLent is a space in time in which we are called to stop whatever we are doing, no matter how important it might be, and enter more intentionally into the disciplines of prayer, self-examination and repentance. But these disciplines—as significant as they are—are not ends in themselves. They are a means to an end and that end is that we would return to God with all our hearts.” Ruth Haley Barton

Dates: March 1 (Ash Wednesday) to April 17

Throughout the Scriptures God used moments of forty to work in the lives of His people. To test. To renew. To grow. To direct. Forty designated a time when God engaged humanity in exceptional, memorable and life-transforming ways. Our desire is for God to do something extraordinary in our lives during this moment of forty spent in devotion to Him. The season of Lent is a time for reflection, repentance, and renewal – when Christians are invited to prepare themselves spiritually for the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. It is a season of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock. Its purpose is to create space in our lives to experience God. The sacrifices God wants are not mere outward Lenten rituals, but rather broken and contrite hearts that are being trained to live in attentive responsiveness to his work and will in our lives (Psm. 51).

Online Lent Resources:

Bible.com: https://www.bible.com/search/plans?q=lent

Biola University: http://ccca.biola.edu/lent/2017/#day-mar-2

NT Wright: http://us1.campaign-archive2.com/?u=1ac42aab6f95b50cda7064362&id=cfd7d622c2&e=6cb565f7a1 Wright:

 The Transforming Center: http://thetransformingcenter.org/

 Traditionally the practices of fasting, generosity, and prayer have been long associated with Lent.

 Questions to Ponder:

How will I fast? (What do I need to abstain from in order to create more space for God?)

How is my life unfolding? Is this the way I want to live?

How might I serve others?

How might I give generously and selflessly?

Who do I need to forgive and from whom do I need to seek forgiveness?

Practices to Consider:

  • Observe a fast for 40 days which creates space to connect with God.
  • Journey weekly through a Lent resource with others.
  • Engage in ways to give generously and serving in our community.
  • Host a Sunday celebration meal with your neighbors or others.
  • Attend the Good Friday Service on April 14th at 6:30PM.

Other Resources:

A Way Other Than Our Own by Walter Brueggmann

Falling Into Goodness by Chuck DeGroat

Small Surrenders by Emilie Griffin

Show Me The Way: Daily Lenten Readings by Henri Houwen

 

A Prayer for Entering into Lent

“How often have I lived through these weeks without paying much attention to penance, fasting, and prayer? How often have I missed the spiritual fruits of the season without even being aware of it? But how can I ever really celebrate Easter without observing Lent? How can I rejoice fully in your Resurrection when I have avoided participating in your death?

Yes, Lord, I have to die—with you, through you, and in you—and thus become ready to recognize you when you appear to me in your Resurrection.

There is so much in me that needs to die: false attachments, greed and anger, impatience and stinginess…. I see clearly now how little I have died with you, really gone your way and been faithful to it.

O Lord, make this Lenten season different from the other ones.

Let me find you again. Amen.”

Nouwen, Henri (2002). A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee. Image Books.

 

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I’ve Never Been This Way Before

designLike you I am a bit giddy at the prospect of beginning again. I look forward to the freshness and possibilities that the New Year offers. There is something about being given a clean slate…a do-over or “reboot” in our lives.

Unlike many of you I’ve not yet set any goals. Much of what is rumbling around in my head is still too indistinguishable to put on paper. And, yet, I am anxious to leave some things behind and move on. Part of my problem is…I’ve never been this way before. And that is what makes it so exciting…and so scary.

In such a place the Israelites found themselves. After forty years of desert wanderings the Israelites finally stared, from the other side of a small river, at the Promised Land. How giddy (and relieved) they must have felt to say good-bye to the harsh realities of desert living and take hold of this exciting and new beginning, with all its possibilities of a different way of living and experiencing life. The hopeful fulfillment of this promise consumed their hearts and propelled them on their journey for forty long years. And now they could see it and almost touch it.

Yet, they were instructed to wait three days (v. 1,2) before crossing over. Three days they lived with the seemingly endless tension of seeing but not entering the land. They must have felt like we do at times that any movement is better than no movement at all. The temptation to move out on their own must have been strong. So why the wait?

“When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, who are carrying it, you are to move out from your positions, and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. Joshua 3:3-4.

In the waiting, rather than charging impulsively to make something happen, they recalibrated their hearts to follow.

They were instructed to wait for God to go first; to lead the way. The essence of the Christian life is not so much that it’s up to us to figure out where we are going (for what then is the need for faith?) but to live attentively and responsively, in the moment, to the creative, on-going, sometimes maddening movements and leading of God in our lives…knowing that in doing so we will experience life far beyond what we could ever dream or create on our own.

What the Israelites would soon discover…the Promised Land is not a place (or a position, or a title, or state of well-being)…it’s a Presence. A Presence who promises to go ahead of us; to lead us, and live in the muddle of life with us.

So, here are the underpinning of my journey this year: To follow God, with abandon, into an unknown place (as scary as it may feel); to trust the direction I am headed leads to the place I really need to be; to put aside my need to construct the “promise” according to my expectations; to continually be reminded that God is good and life-giving in all His ways.

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Advent Begins Sunday, Nov. 27th

Advent-Cover-smallThis year the season of Advent (the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas) beings on Sunday, Nov. 27th. Jesus’ coming was not just a one-time event as a child so long ago, but his coming invades our lives everyday if we have eyes to see. The Advent season is seen as an intentional time of attuning our hearts, in the busyness of our frenzied days, to recognize all the unexpected ways Jesus still comes to us. In a world of distractions it could be that we may miss his coming all together if we don’t give intentional practice to paying attention. This will help. (I’ve included a sample devotional below.)

With a short, insightful daily devotional, Scripture reading, and two reflective questions, Advent Reflections: Let the Weary World Rejoice! is perfect for churches, individuals or families to be used as a tool to help you slow down and keep your heart in a place of wonder and anticipation rather than a place of exhaustion.

If you would like to give this book as a gift or make it available to your congregation or small group, hard copies are available on my website: Keeping Company With Jesus for $5 (shipping and tax is additional; discounts for larger quanitites apply)

It’s not too late to order your copy! Order today and they will arrive before the 27th.

Or you can order Advent Reflections: Let the Weary World Rejoice! as an e-book on Amazon for $2.99.

What others have said about Advent Reflections:

“It’s my favorite Advent devotional!” Dave M.

“I loved the daily devotional thoughts. They were new and refreshing!” Shari D.

“We used for our family devotions and my teenagers even liked it!” Lisa L.

“This has been such a blessing to me! I want to share it with our church!” Donna B

Here is a sample of a daily devotion:

“She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save his people from their sins. …The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and they will call Him ‘Immanuel’ —which means, ‘God with us.’” Matthew 1:21, 23

Did you realize when God sent His son, Jesus to come to this earth, He gave His Son TWO names? Do you remember what they are?

“Jesus,” which means “Savior” and

“Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”

The pairing of these names tips us off to a reversal in our typical understanding of salvation. We usually think of salvation as Jesus “saves” us from grief, heartache, or whatever we need saving from. What we really want is for Jesus to change our circumstance and make all things better.

But God revealed Jesus as the Savior-Immanuel which means that salvation is not our ascent out of the hard, pain-filled conditions of this world. The real miracle…our real salvation is that God is WITH us. The Christian life is not about getting life fixed; because the reality is, some things can’t be fixed. It is about experiencing God’s presence in the mess of our unfixedness.

“Spirituality is not about competency; it is about intimacy. Spirituality is not about perfection; it is about connection. The way of the spiritual life begins where we are now — in the mess of our lives. Accepting the reality of our broken, flawed lives is the beginning of spirituality, not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws, but because we let go of seeking perfection and instead seek God, the one who is present in the tangledness of our lives.” -Mike Yaconelli

Salvation is certainly the release from the penalty of our sins but it is more than that. It is a matter of having our eyes opened to see that God is with us in this life. We are not alone in our brokenness. Christ now enters every confusing, fearful, restless place in our lives and offers himself as a place of refuge and peace. Rather than be defined by our circumstances, we discover “the saving love of Christ is the measure of our lives.”

When we really see that, we can start to embrace life’s ambiguity and all of sudden it is okay that life is a bit muddled. It’s okay that things don’t make sense and don’t come to tidy conclusions because we can know God is with us in the midst of it. This means we can spend less time worrying about how to get life fixed and a lot more time praying to experience Christ’s presence in every circumstance.

Once we understand this, we begin to cultivate a life with God, a life that was not lived on the surface of things. We begin to let go of the “death grip” on our cherished image of life of our own making. Eventually we begin to realize it is not about how we can make life “work” better, but how we can, on a continual basis, stay attentive and available to the transforming presence of Christ in us.

In the words of the angel Gabriel, “The Lord is with you….Do not be afraid.”

Questions for Reflection:

  • What circumstances have you been so focused on that you have missed God’s presence in the midst of it?
  • What can you do to cultivate a life that is “not lived on the surface of things”?
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A Surprising Wholeness

Surprising Wholeness.png“If the Lord had not been for us”…Psalm 124

Yesterday, as I pondered by these words, my mind retraced the many times God has literally saved my life. A home break-in. A mountain climbing slip. Running blind in the dark. A high-speed car accident. If the Lord had not been for me…wow.

I thought of the many other ways God has saved (the Greek word sozo often translated in Enlish as “saved” means wholeness; healing) me from my own brokenness. The wounds of this life, at hands of others or of my own making, have marked me in profound ways. My healing comes, however, in daily, surprising, incremental, and mostly imperceivable ways as I offer those unfinished parts of my soul to God who alone can make whole again. Then one morning I wake up and realize I am no longer angry…or mad…or sad…or bitter. There has been a gift of grace at work beneath the surface of my life. If the Lord had not been for me…

If we look to other things to find the help we need, we end up running ourselves ragged, empty and exhausted still finding ourselves swallowed up and swept away.

Often, however, it is those things in life that threaten to overtake us is where we find it most difficult to receive the unexpected healing and redemption that is offered. Cancer, loss, grief…in our struggle through pain we can come to narrowly define what healing should look like (such as physical…which, however, is not small thing). Expecting, hoping and intensely focused on God to come to us in a certain way, we may miss all the other ways God wants to heal us as well. Unintentionally we can miss experiencing the fullness of the abundant life because we are looking for something else.

The common thread of grace through my life (and I suspect yours) is that it is in the help we experience, not so much the hazards we face, that ultimately shapes and heals us. Once we come to recognize over and over again, “If the Lord had not been for us…” we can live life as grateful recipients of grace however it is offered.

If God hadn’t been for us

—all together now, Israel, sing out!—

If God hadn’t been for us

when everyone went against us,

We would have been swallowed alive

by their violent anger,

Swept away by the flood of rage,

drowned in the torrent;

We would have lost our lives

in the wild, raging water.

Oh, blessed be God!

He didn’t go off and leave us.

He didn’t abandon us defenseless…Psalm 124:1-6

 

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