Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Master's Hem

      I have not fallen off of the face of the earth. I promise. I have simply taken a break to regroup, and continue my focus on my schoolwork, family, and ministry. However, I do have a very exciting announcement. After my recent MRI I have been declared to be IN REMISSION in my disease. My family and I couldn't be happier, more blessed, more humbled, and more in awe of our faithful and precious Father. In 4.5 years, this is the first time I have experienced remission, and just saying the word is beautiful music in my mouth and to my ears. My nurse called with results the Friday before Christmas, and it took the next few days for it to sink in: I have no new lesions, no active lesions, no new damage, and I am stable. These results grouped with my lack of new symptoms signal remission. While MS is still residing in my body, it is currently "asleep" as I like to say, and my health is doing beautifully.
      I cannot thank everyone enough for their prayers, words of encouragement, and support in every way imaginable over the course of this disease. My friends and family, and some whom I've never met, have served as constant reminders of God's faithfulness.  If it weren't for you and your partnership with us in the gospel with the Lord, I don't know where I'd be. I owe my life to matter how tattered and worn this body may be, it will always praise Him. I believe whole-heartedly that He is the Great Physician.    
      One of my favorite scripture sections in the Word can be found in Mark 5. Jesus was traveling through a heavy crowd; people were pushing on all sides just trying to get a piece of Him. A woman who'd suffered for 12 years with "an issue of blood" saw Him and she said, "If I could just touch Him...." I can feel her desperation, and almost see her fingers in my mind as she spreads them out in the attempt to get to her Savior. Finally, she pushed her way to the Healer, grasped the hem of His robe, and immediately she was healed as the fabric engulfing Him slid between her thumb and fingertips. Jesus knew when His healing power had left His body and traveled through hers. I can only imagine the beauty of wellness that surged through her veins as the power that created them pushed through her broken and tired body, bringing with it health and life. Jesus asked who had touched Him, but the disciples following Him were befuddled. "Everyone has touched You, Master."
      "But I felt it specifically," He replied, His face mirroring concern as intuition took over.
      And he saw her. She knelt before Him and He blessed her for her faith, telling her that she was healed and whole. Can you imagine the silent exchange between the two of them as their eyes met, a bustling and boisterous crowd in their periphery, but none of it mattering. Jesus knew who had touched Him; He was God. He knew the pain and sickness that had wreaked havoc on her spirit's shell for twelve agonizing years. He wasn't averse to healing her if she'd simply asked. But the circumstances of her healing remind us of God's all surpassing power that we can't bottle up and seal with a prescription. There have been times when I've wondered if God was too crowded with people to feel my measly presence close to Him. Had he forgotten me? No, He knew I was there because He felt His healing passing between the two of us, and His eyes never lost mine in the crowd.
      A few months ago, Jordan and I were going through some very difficult spiritual warfare. In fact, it was the worst and most devastating we'd ever been through. It was causing strange problems with my disease and I was beginning to wonder if I would make it out of the situation untouched health-wise. One afternoon I was praying for Jordan and all that he had to endure through the situation--the painful growth we were sustaining. It was as if we were in the middle of a hurricane and only our faces were above the water, at short intervals, just long enough for us to catch a quick breath. On this particular day my heart was giving out and up. I had nothing left. I fell on my bedroom floor, face down, and cried out to my Savior. I laid there in a puddle of tears and reached my hands out before me, clenching them into fists as if I were grasping something. Then I prayed, "Just let me touch the hem of Your robe. I know there's healing there." The presence of God surrounded me and the joy of Lord filled me to overflowing. I was crying and laughing and heart was soaring. I don't know if that was when remission kicked in, or if it was just a spiritual healing or a connection I made with my Father, but that is the closest I have ever felt to Him.
       Jesus isn't a passerby in a crowd who only heals the physically sick. He's the beauty and wonder felt in the relationship that guides us through life and inspires us in its many ups and downs, reminding us that we are never alone. Eye contact and heart contact are always made, and never unattended. The healing isn't just physical, it's spiritual, mental, and emotional.
      My story and the woman's story in Mark aren't any different than anyone else's, we just have a physical example. However, we all have a spiritual one. The two most important parts of the story highlight the woman's faith and Jesus' remark of wholeness. It's essentially a story of salvation. We're all sick; but faith grasps Jesus' hem and believes in His saving grace, the power that makes us new and whole in Him.

Zechariah 8:23*

Monday, September 9, 2013

Copping A Feel Without the Aid of Christian Grey

      I always pray about what God wants me to write; that's why it usually takes me so long between posts. I've been working on the one below for about a week now, and have prayed constantly over it. I've also sought the opinions of my husband and my sweet friend Lindsey. I'm very well aware that I'm going to lose some friends over this post, but such is the life of a Christ-follower. My posts are never meant to judge--at this point, I don't think it even matters if I say that anymore because everyone will draw their own conclusions. But I can say this without fear, as I wasn't born of a spirit of fear or timidity, but one of power and of sound mind in the Holy Spirit: when God tells me to do something, I've learned not to ask questions. Just do it. I must warn you that there are numerous references to sex in this post; however, they are tasteful and Biblical. If you are sensitive to such or are under the age of 13, you might wanna have your momma proofread this before you proceed. Most of you know how I feel about God's gift to man and wife, and this post doesn't move from those opinions. My opinions are formed based on the reading of God's word, prayer, and His Holy Spirit. I just sit back and let Him do His thing through me. So if you've got some issues with me, that's cool. But I'll not apologize for God's direction for me. I'll not apologize for who I am in Him. And I'll never apologize for who He is in me.

      Our country is possibly entering another war and ABC's headline from the other day concerned the lead role for a possible NC-17 rated movie. And we wonder what's wrong with our present society.

      So often I see women write of the man of their dreams, that knight in shining armor that glistens in the moonlight of an innocent first kiss on the front porch, a kiss that happens only after permission, when marriage is sought out through the young lady's father first, and sex is never expected let alone requested.
      I'm very well aware that my circumstances weren't as such. Jordan and I had planned to wait until marriage to have sex with one another, but young love doesn't always wait. We're human just like the rest of the world and this area with each other was our soft spot in which the devil honed his eager little claws. Regardless, the Lord has never left our side and we've only drawn closer to Him. We know that this marriage and all of the beautiful ups and downs it brings would never work if it weren't for His grace and His mercy. And as our love grows for Him, our loves grows for each other, and vice versa. Every day I see how amazing God is as I watch Jordan grow in Him. He works hard for peanuts at a job he doesn't particularly enjoy, but he praises the Lord for humbling him, for teaching him patience in the struggle, for shaping him into what God wants him to be, and for fine-tuning his ministry and his walk. This is what makes me fall even more in love with Jordan. Not his amazing thick head of chocolate brown hair or those sparkling eyes of his that let me know that I'm the only woman in his world. Not his beautiful David-esque build, or the way he strums a guitar as if he's strumming the very sinews that knit me together. Not his money, not his car, and not the things he does for me or the things he buys for me. No, my love for Jordan is deepened through my relationship with Christ and his relationship with Christ. To watch him grow in Jesus only pulls me even further into him, for I know that when I'm closer to Christ, I'm closer to Jordan. When I'm closer to Jordan, I'm closer to Christ. And in all of this, I become a better wife, a better mother, a better Christian, a better me.
      My marriage isn't perfect. It's a constant work in progress just like I am a constant work in progress. We can fight like cats and dogs if needed, and we've said some hurtful things to each other that neither of us are proud of; we're both messy with arguments and I'm horrible at letting a dead dog lie. I like to "take care of business" but I'm learning that my timing for that isn't always the greatest; I'm learning to wait on God's timing instead which helps me to wait on God in general. Still, I'm moody and I'm loud. It's ridiculous really. Sometimes I don't even realize that I'm raising my voice above the level considered normal because my voice is already so loud. I have temper issues toward nothing really, I'm just a very passionate person and "passionate people tend to over react." He always knows when I'm about to blow, too. If I'm art deprived he'll leave me be so I can create....even if it's just a mess. I also speak before I think; I have the filter of a water hose when I'm stressed.....and when I'm not. Jordan gets so irritated with me; he's quiet and more reserved with his words and thinks very carefully before he ever speaks. He's blown it a couple of times, but he's a jewel compared to me. I've been known to throw a cell phone....or a frying pan....lots of Kotex pads. Regardless of the fits I throw or dead horses I beat to bloody pulps, there is one thing Jordan can always be sure of: I love him with a passion that far exceeds anything written in a book or seen in a movie, and no flying kitchen utensil can ever change that. He's my gift from God. Why would I want anything less?
      This brings me to the point of my post. For about two years now I've heard the moans of social networking ecstasy about the luscious character Christian Grey of the book Fifty Shades of Grey and his sexual dungeon of doom. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, friends, acquaintances, people that just randomly follow me or I randomly follow them, girls that have said things to me at school, hanging out, and even in church....the list is never ending.  "Oh, you can nail me to a cross any time, Christian!" said one lady. Another said, "I'd let that man spank me any day of the week!" And yet another screamed, "I'm gonna buy this for my husband so he can take some notes!"


      Mind you, these were all said or written by married women. In fact, the many memes, shirts, and quotes I've seen were rarely posted, worn, or said by any single gal but instead married women. This is sad, ladies. And now I'm going to be brutally and unabashedly honest: What's even worse and more painful is that women are flocking to read this trash or view it when they've got husbands at home of their own, most of the time lying right next to them as they feverishly turn page after sticky page. And we wonder why men feel inadequate and move on to greener pastures. I'm not justifying infidelity's actions; it was just a thought.
      Before I continue I'm going to address some of the questions that are popping up in your pretty little heads. First, how do I know so much about this book. Well, for one, my newsfeed is full of it, especially today as the star picked to play the fabulous Grey was announced on most if not all social media outlets and everyone shared it.  Second, prior to knowing anything about the book I sampled the free first chapter on my Kindle. Warning: this was months before I knew anything about the book. I'd only heard of it. I was so excited when I received my free sample! I'd only heard, "Read it! You'll love it!" The silver tie on the cover said to my gullible eyes: MYSTERY! LAWYERS! I was thinking Robert Whitlow or John Grisham type literature. I began the book. The first page in was excruciating. For an English major and one who enjoys literature in general, I was shocked at how the general public was enjoying this read. For one, it's confusing how the writer was even published as a coherent or finished thought never really entered the page. I continued for a few pages until the supposed protagonist met Mr. Grey. I was so overwhelmingly bored and confused by the author's usage of the same four words, I knew I wouldn't make it through the rest of the book. I deleted the one chapter sample without even finishing it and thought to myself, to each his own, and moved on.
      Shortly after, the social network sites exploded with wonderment at the voluptuous Christian Grey. One day I asked what the big deal was and a dear friend was honest and said, "No. Stay away from that. You'll hate it." Within minutes of posting my question on Facebook a flood of messages came into my inbox. Women were begging for me to stay away from this "evil," as one friend called it. Another was all but vomiting through her message in her plea for me to, again, "stay away." I soon received phone calls, emails, and texts from other women saying much of the same. Of course I was concerned, so I did some research and found all that I needed to know about E.L. James and her Fifty Shades of Grey.
      For weeks I kept my opinions to myself. Then I read a beautifully written article by a Christian writer concerning the book, the characters, and the effects of erotica/pornography on the brain. I shared it. From there I received some backlash and was deleted by a few people, but the overall response was good from the people who chose to weigh in. For the most part, I felt like it was a healthy dialogue. I've also seen a few interviews with the author and read plenty of articles, Christian as well as secular. This is how I know anything about the book and the author.
      Second, allow me to address the Twilight Saga questions. Yes, I've read it. Most of you have read Twilight. And yes, I had an Eclipse party.....with my youth director's wife and all of my Christian friends. Really?! Who ME?! Have a Twilight party?! Oh, for SHAME! Yes. I did. And it was downright fun. And I'd do it again. We weren't partying because we love Edward or Jacob, or because we wanna have hybrid babies with a vampire or a litter of half puppies with a half-naked perpetually 17-year-old boy, nor were  partying over the literary prowess of Stephenie Meyer. No, we partied because we enjoyed the fairytale....and it was an awesome excuse to hang out and eat cupcakes. The Twilight Saga was magic and to me, much like Harry Potter, only not nearly as well-written. We couldn't wait for the wedding of Bella and Edward or the war between the tribes and covens, or, for me, the makeup that would transform Bella in the movies. There was nothing sexual for my friends and me when it came to the Twilight except for the fact that the main characters waited until their wedding night to do anything sexual at all other than the occasional painful-for-Edward kiss. But such is the life of dating in general, right? I also never said I had a "thing" for either of the main male characters. While I'm not going to lie, I think both Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner are handsome fellas, neither one of them or anyone else hold a candle to Jordan. I loved the characters in the books; while the Twilight Saga is far from being referred to as literature, it's a fun read and in my opinion most of the characters are well-mapped out but a little flat, with the exception of Bella who clearly has some self-loathing issues, but that's a different topic for another day. However, I have always said that Edward's character reminded me of Jordan; he was very "old school" and genteel much like my hubby. That's what drew my attention in the book. As for Jacob, his character reminded me of my younger brother and a close friend of ours: hot-headed and little over-confident, but rightly so. And I can be quoted several times in saying, "I get the best of both worlds: Jordan acts like Edward and looks like Jacob so I don't really have to choose a team!" Our affinity with the saga never crossed the line between appropriate and "I wish I could get dirty with the main character." And I never once compared the two or said that Jordan needed to take some notes.
      A few people have asked me, "How do you differentiate between the two books' purposes and stories without being hypocritical?" Easy. I'm not reading about someone else's sex life and getting stimulated or aroused by it. Here's the kicker: erotica and pornography are set into place as such to stimulate the senses, particularly the southern regional senses, and I'm not talking about geographically. If Twilight did that for anyone, I would like to know how. This is where my case rests.
      Allow me to backtrack to the messages I received concerning my inquiring post at the beginning of all of this. Out of all of the messages I received, only one did not have the mention of prayer in it. The rest were from women asking me to pray for them. They were having trouble in the bedrooms with their husbands, some were seeking counseling, others were on such rocky ground with their husbands that they didn't know if they were going to make it. Some used the book as a "healing tool" in the bedroom but it only further damaged what was breaking. I wondered if this was normal; as I continued my research (in the loosest sense of the word) I found that women had graduated from erotica to porn and were soon after struggling with an addiction. Fifty Shades of Grey is classified as erotica. The definition of erotica according to Miriam Webster is 1. artistic or literary works having an erotic theme or 2.depiction of things erotic. The root word for erotica is simply erotic which means 1. of, devoted to, or tending to arouse sexual desire and 2. strongly marked or affected by sexual desire. Friends, simply put, this means that erotica's main purpose is to turn its viewer or reader on sexually. How is this different from pornography? Well, it's not. the definitions for pornography are as follows: 1. the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement. 2. material (as in books or photographs) that depicts erotic behavior intended to cause sexual excitement. 3. the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction. The two go hand in hand, friends. One is no different from the other. Pornography and erotica could almost be used as synonyms for one another. If that isn't enough to convince you, I'll leave you with this: to even look up the term "definition of erotica" I had to remove the safe search option from my Google filter. That speaks volumes, friends.
      Let me put this into more perspective: First, Matthew 5:28 tells us that if a man looks upon a woman and lusts after her in his heart then he has committed adultery. You feel like you're being cheated if your husband looks at a naked woman, don't you? What if she's engaged in a sexual act with someone? Still feeling cheated? Why? Because the images of this woman that isn't you are being sown into your husband's heart and mind. He is aroused by her. He has lusted after her, and YOU are the one he's supposed to be lusting after. Now let's turn the table. You are imagining Christian Grey and the many sexual and deviant acts he performs on another woman. You're becoming aroused and those images rather real or fantasy have taken over your heart and your mind, and while you're lying next to your quiet and slumbering partner that God created especially for you, your heart is pounding and your mind is racing at the thoughts of how he'll never measure up to Christian Grey and this facade of a man that you have created in your mind. Before you know it, the book between your eager eyes and your husband's breaking heart isn't the only thing separating the two of you. See, when we become one with our husbands, it isn't just in body. We're one with him in heart, soul, and mind as well. So by reading pornography, because let's be honest, girls, that's what it is, you're cheating on your husband and giving part of yourself away to something else. And let me just add that making love to your husband after you've read the books, your head filled to overflowing with thoughts of the Grey lover, does not constitute making things right with your man or your Lord.
      This is where the Bible and grace pick up the pieces. And this is where I am in total awe of my God and His amazing imagination.
      People say the Bible is boring. You know all of that excitement in private quarters with your spouse? It's so fun, isn't it! The giggling and the kissing and the freedom to do whatever with your hubby? I just love that! It's so precious and more than special.
     Anyway, all of that sexy love stuff? Yeah....that's in the Bible. (Insert bug-eyes and shock-and-awe HERE.) And it's not just in one place, it's from beginning to end! And guess what else: GOD invented ALL of that fun stuff you get to do with that cute little thing you call your hubby any time you want, but let's keep it a little private, please.
      From the very beginning God blessed man and wife with sex. He means for it to be pleasurable, between only the two, and for them to procreate. What an awesome gift! God tells us in Genesis 2,  Matthew 19, Mark 10,  1 Corinthians 6, and AGAIN in Ephesians that the two become one flesh. If He's mentioning it several times I think it might be important. His word also reminds us in Hebrews that the marriage bed is undefiled. But the key word here is marriage. So if the two married parties, a man and a woman have joined together to become one flesh, how is it Biblical to invite others into this one being which is created in an undefiled space? By inviting others either physically or through imagination, we're defiling the marriage bed and adding a third, which has no place. Again, the two become one
       1 Corinthians chapter 7 goes on to remind us that our bodies are not our own. As a wife, my husband has rights over my body. My body belongs to him and only him. But get this, it continues in saying that my husband's body is mine and not his own. So neither one of us rules over our own bodies, but each other's. And as a couple, we're to basically be together as one all the time and to only stop for prayer. Now, God understands that we have kids, jobs, school, meals, etc., but the point of this verse is to remind us of the importance of sex in marriage. God places a great deal of emphasis on sex and the marriage bed. He created within each of us a desire for our spouses, better yet, a fire that can only been quenched when we're together in the secret place that yes, HE created for us as well. He also understands that we're human and we'll cave to temptation if we're not constantly quenching this fire meant for one another. It's not just for physical pleasure or even procreation; sex is a means of communication between you and your husband. Girls, this is the conversation you've been waiting for, the one only the two of you share in which no one else is invited. You have his attention. Take it. You want him all to yourself and you have him all to yourself. He's all your's, and you're all his. This is the most crucial form of communication between you and your husband other than intercessory prayer for one another. It's our extra special way of saying, "I love you" and reminding one other that we belong to no one else. It is the resounding claim that "I am my beloved's and he is mine." Song of Solomon 6:3.
      Some of you are seething with anger right now, poised and ready to type a rebuttal. But I don't write these words for fighting or judgment, for hype or to call anyone out. As a believer and a friend, as a fellow wife, I genuinely care about marriages because they're the root of the body of Christ. As the church we are the likeness of a beautiful bride whom God is preparing for the return of the bridegroom, Jesus. Our own marriages and the kind of bride we are in them are but a reflection of the relationship between Christ and His church. Do we want our dresses stained? Do we want flaws and wrinkles? We want to be perfect for Him. On your wedding day you wanted to be perfect and spotless for your groom. How have things changed? We live in a society where sex is sold at a pretty fair price in your cable bill, where women are idolized based on the size of their bodies and the amount of skin they reveal. These same women are giving to the world, without shame, what was meant to be kept in secret for one man.
      As believers, the issue of this book is much larger than our minds and our marriages being at stake. The question at hand is are we doing our part as the bride of Christ? We'll never be perfect, but by weakening ourselves with material such as pornography, drugs, violence, control issues, greed, etc., we're not only falling for that prowling lion that seeks to devour us (1 Peter 5:8), we're falling for his tricks! Folks, this angel of darkness comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy (John 10:10). The lies that he throws at women in this book are nothing but tripwires to steal our joy in our union with our men and our God; his mission is to kill those unions and to destroy every last ounce of any gift God gave to us, leaving us hopelessness and nothing but broken pieces to sweep up with the tattered pages of a meaningless book.
      I love how Solomon describes his wife. He sees her thighs as jewels and her breasts like graceful does. While this may sound a little weird to us, Solomon hasn't seen half-naked women twerking on television. He only appreciates the beauty of the woman God gave to him. One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac worked and waited for years and years to marry Rebekah; to protect her, he pretended she was his sister, but a man saw them in the field and caught Isaac copping a feel of Rebekah. This very small passage in Genesis that captures the deeper relationship between husband and wife spoke volumes to me the first time I read it. God wants us to have some fun in our marriages; He wants us to flirt and play and be that precious couple that just can't get enough of each other. He wants us to not only love one another but be in love with one another, to want each other, just as He is in love with us and wants to be with us but on an agape love level.
      So in reference to Grey and his fifty shades, I ask you this: why would you want to steal away what your man deserves from you by giving part of yourself to a garbage-filled book with a character who lacks the depth of a teaspoon and doesn't even exist, a fictional person who isn't your husband---the other half of your heart?
      In the end, friends, you don't need any book, magazine, video, or film to draw you closer to your husband. As you draw closer to the Father you'll draw closer to him, and that special time in secret places will be even more meaningful. You'll find the woman God created you to be rather than an "inner goddess" that revolves around self and loses sight of the grander picture. You'll be the woman your husband needs and deserves, sweeter and more perfectly beautiful in the Savior than any photograph or verbal description can offer. Every aspect of your marriage will blossom to reveal a more beautiful gift than even King Solomon couldn't describe with his poetic words. What a blessing that will be, and what sweet, perfect magic in only two shades: Jesus and your husband.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Color Splash

      It's amazing how God works, isn't it. Every brush stroke onto the canvas of our lives is put in place by the Master Artist's perfect hand. No brush hair goes astray, no paint spills or splatters unless He means for it.
      It's been almost 4 years since I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Four years of learning to balance my disease, literally and figuratively. Four years of the unknown. Four years of my faith being fine-tuned to total dependence on the Father. It's been almost 3 years that I've gone without a blip. Yes, I have symptoms, but a flare-up hasn't made its way into my life for three. Blissful. Years. My brain has gone from three or four lesions (can't remember....because I have MS) to one, very small, and very inactive lesion. I am THISCLOSE to remission. I've kicked this beast in the butt, haven't I? But MS has its ways of reminding me.... And God has His ways of reminding me....
      Two years ago I set out on an adventure, one known as nontraditionalism. In other words, I went back to college. With a borrowed book bag and a fresh new pack of number 2 pencils, I waltzed my way into Dalton State College ready to fulfill my dream of becoming an English degree-holder. I made straight A's that first year. At the beginning of that second year I achieved another one of my dreams: to become a makeup artist for MAC cosmetics. It was no secret when I walked into MAC that I wanted a job as an artist there; I'd been filling out applications for seven years! It is, after all, the highest honor in all of makeupdom. MAC is the coup de grace of makeup, application, and makeup artistry. When I was hired on July 25, 2012 as a permanent MAC Artist, I made no secret about it and posted my fortune for all of the world to see.....on Facebook.       
       MAC took me to new heights concerning my artistry; I added  to my 13 years of experience and my love for the makeup arts soared to another level, as did my skill. I was sent to Nashville with two fellow new-hires for extensive training where the three of us received one certification. Shortly thereafter we received two more, one of which gave us each the title of Certified MAC Artist. I was thriving and in my element. My dream had come true.
      While in Nashville I received a phone call from my daughter's school principal. Just a side note here, it's also no big secret that I want to be a teacher....and teach at CHS. The principal asked me if I'd be interested in a job at CHS....teaching 6th graders. It would be a temporary position but it would get my foot in the door; she had remembered my enthusiasm concerning the fine arts when we first elected to send Lilli to CHS for kindergarten four years before. I had told her, "I love the arts and will do anything I can to help CHS."
      I'll never forget standing in the foyer of the hotel room in Nashville, wearing my MAC black and jewelry, my hair perfect, tears streaming down my made up face. She said she'd work around my school and MAC schedules, that I should just tell her the days and times I could teach.
      Again, my dreams were all coming true and as usual, God was clearly the center of it all. 
      I was so grateful to Him. Jordan had been out of a job for eight months; God had been providing left and right and we never went without. Our ministry was also thriving. And here I was, standing in the middle of His presence as He showered my family and me with yet another blessing.
      As the fall progressed so did my jobs and my education. I am one of those people who tends to think she can do more than the average bear. I am of the mindset "I've given birth, I can conquer the world." I don't allow MS to control me. NOTHING holds me back from success.
      By Christmas I was exhausted. I couldn't handle much more. I was getting behind in my classes and working until sometimes midnight at MAC for holiday hours, then getting up at 5am the next morning for school. I was working tirelessly for MAC, CHS, or DSC every moment of every single day. Finally my break between semesters came, but I was still overwhelmed.
      I was having migraines and missing classes; I was staying sick and I gained the 15 pounds I'd lost the spring before. I was also missing time with my husband and my daughter; that in and of itself will take an astronomical toll on any woman. I was crying at work just from being away from them. Being a wife and a mother are a calling from God, and it's not a calling I take lightly. Finally, my body gave up. I was lying in bed when I woke up at 5am one winter morning, sweaty, hot, nauseated, numb, unable to talk, and in severe chest pain. I thought I was having a heart attack. I made it to the toilet to vomit when I fell on the floor because I was too weak to hold myself up let alone wake Jordan. I finally made it back to bed, then got up two hours later and went to school. I called Jordan when the same episode happened again, and he demanded I get to the ER.....but I had a French test I had to finish. He would have to wait. (I thought he was gonna kill me himself after that!) After my test, I drove myself to the ER where they hooked me up to wires and an IV. Eight hours later the doctor came in to my room, told me I was doing too much and that I had exhausted myself and that I also wasn't taking care of myself so my potassium and fluid levels had dropped. I was dehydrated and went through almost two bags of fluid. Seriously? I thought you had to be a movie star to go to the hospital for "exhaustion."
      After a while spring came, but I thought it never would. In April I dropped from 20 hours a week at MAC to 15 hours a week. 20 hours a week doesn't sound like much but on top of everything else I was doing, it was torture. MAC is also a very high pressure job: there are numbers to meet, there's the look we have, the constant demand to be artistic (which is tough if you're tired), grumpy customers and happy customers, and also behind the scenes work. I also had tri-monthly training and projects on the side. Teaching can be tasking as well: there are papers to grade and lessons to prepare for...did I mention my students were 11 and 12? They're a blast but also a mess! Then piled on top of this was my school work. By semester's end I'd gone from Dean's List to, well, my own private, er....other list. I had one A, two B's, and one C. FACE. PALM. I was crumbling to dust under the pressure.
      Finally I talked with my MAC boss. I was going to have to drop from my 15 hour position as a permanent artist to a freelance/on-call position. This meant that they would only call me when they needed me. I was getting a much needed break, and my boss was very understanding.
      School ended and summer began. But as we all know, summer heat, particularly the Georgia summer heat, is not an MSer's BFF. Not only this, but several very stressful events have unfolded over the past few weeks all at once. As Jordan and I have been moving forward in our ministry, the devil and his evil minions have been moving forward on us, too. We left our home church of ten years as a family, and over 100 years as an extended family. Only weeks ago, I was deeply hurt by a dear friend of many years and we have moved on and away from our relationship. This was like a death for my family and me, and I'm still dealing with the overall effects of it. Shortly after this our family cat Otis died, and my health has been steadily declining, although I've kept that to myself. Only my family sees what I go through when MS takes over, and even then I sometimes remain quiet so as not to stress or worry them.
      Basically, God is doing a steady "cutting off" of sorts with relationships and circumstances in our lives. We know He's taking our ministry to the next level, and we're more than grateful. However, it can be a very painful process when one gives up everything and says, "Here am I, Lord. Send me." I won't lie, sometimes I feel like giving up, but we focus on God rather than any pain. We consider these trials pure joy just as James says, and we know the end will bring glory to God.
      My boss had called me with an opportunity to work at the end of July and I wrote it into my schedule. But as the heat and summer progressed, so did my symptoms.
      I went up to MAC a couple of weeks ago to get some paper work from my boss. While there, we discussed how much I'd be able to work in the coming months. With permanent artists moving on and changes within the MAC team, she needed to know she could count on me for on-call hours. I'd also already signed up for my fall semester with six classes, three of them upper division English. I promised Saturdays and holidays but there was no way I could work during the week. After a week or so of wracking my brain for answers, I decided the best thing for me to do would be to only work holidays.
       Then I prayed.
      God, you've gotta show me something. I'm making myself sick over this. I didn't want to leave my job at MAC but staying wasn't looking too promising for me or my health. I had been in the bed for over a week just from the stress of deciding what to do on top of the heat of every day. How was I going to make this work? For three days last week I laid in the bed and cried and slept; I hardly ate and my nerves were completely shot giving my body a foreign feeling that I only have when I'm having a blip. My mind wasn't functioning to capacity and neither was my body. I won't detail everything; it's humiliating and there are some things about this disease that I don't publicize. Bottom line, I just couldn't get it together. I was a roller coaster of cars flying off of the tracks, their passengers unbuckled and barely holding on for life.
      Then God showed His sweet face.
      I had posted an article on my Facebook page concerning MS a couple of weeks ago. On Wednesday I was praying and had finally calmed down long enough to respond to some emails and messages on Messenger, and comments on Facebook. On this particular post was a comment from a gal I'd known for years, Lisa Hughes, that led me to believe she had MS. So I asked her, "Do you have MS, Lisa?" And she replied, "Yes."  I had no idea. The next thing I knew, I had an inbox message from her saying that she was diagnosed 13 years ago, but hadn't had a flare up in 5 years. She is now in remission. Now folks, I don't know if you remember this, but the ultimate goal for an MSer is either a cure or remission. It's kind of a really big deal to even meet someone in remission. I told her just a tiny bit of what I was going through...that I was tired and stressed. We talked back and forth for a few minutes about the disease and our struggles with it. It's nice to talk with someone every now and then who understands this MonSter. I had been so sick all week and wasn't used to it; I felt like I was spiraling out of control. Then Lisa said something that struck a chord in the depths of my heart: "I had been getting weaker and weaker, emotionally and physically....finally my body starting shutting down....and GOD SAT ME DOWN."
      I lost it. I couldn't even think as I heard my voice cry out in utter pain. I told her, "That's where I am and I'm so close remission! I can't go back now!" Then she told me she understood me. Then she told me her story.
      Lisa's lifelong dream was to be a teacher; as a child she taught her baby dolls. Ironically, this is something I did, too. She fulfilled her dream of teaching and was happy. Out of nowhere she started having problems with her vision, just as I have, a condition called optic neuritis. It can cause horrible migraines among other vision problems and can, at times, be impossible to deal with. But Lisa was persistent and wanted to remain at her post. God, on the other hand, said, "No. Not now." She finally caved to the beast and went to the doctor, where she begged and begged to go back to work. Her doctor, feeling cornered, finally said, "Okay. Go back to work. Enjoy it......................But I thought you wanted to walk the floor with your grandchildren one day....and I thought you wanted to walk down the aisle when your daughter gets married....I really thought you wanted to travel and enjoy time with your husband......  If you go back to work without healing or remission, you have a max of 5 years to walk and be healthy."
      FIVE. YEARS. 
      I thought about Jordan and that wife I want to be for him...the one he deserves. I thought about the running we want to do together....the 5k he encourages me to run, and the simple wish he has to run it with me beside him, no matter how slow I go. Gosh, that man loves me. I thought about being the lover and mate he deserves. I thought about Lilli....about being there for her for all of her activities, her life in general. I thought about having another baby, about holding my grandchildren, about walking across the stage to get my diploma in two years.
      I thought about walking.
      I thought about the time I'd missed with them. 
     What would they do with me in the bed or a wheelchair because I had this selfish need to accomplish every dream in the world I have in my blonde head? Because when it came right down to it, I was trying to prove to everyone in the world that MS wouldn't get the better of me. I was trying to prove to myself that MS wouldn't get the better of me.....that I'm strong and I can do this....  I left out one thing: GOD.
      What will happen to me if I relapse?
      I'll have nothing. I'll be nothing. I won't graduate. I won't work. I won't even be able to function enough to paint or write in my own home. This isn't about achieving my dreams; I lost my always-perfect-Jesus-vision and ran for "ooh, momentarily shiny!" It all became about me. That's not why I'm here, folks. I completely missed the mark. I suddenly felt like Peter on the stormy waters with Jesus. Peter knew He could walk on the water as long as He kept his eyes on his Savior. But the moment he took his eyes off of Jesus and tried to walk on his own, he began to sink. I'd taken my eyes off of the One who was allowing me to walk, and I was sinking.
      At that instant I called Jordan crying beyond my control from sheer happiness; I told him everything Lisa had said. "Wow....I think you've got your answer from God, Brandi." He'd been telling me for weeks; so had my parents. I then emailed my boss and resigned my position at MAC altogether. And an overwhelming peace that I'd been missing flooded my entire being, body and soul. My appetite was instantly back and all other functioning was in order. I could see, I wasn't crying from stress and fear, but from James' pure joy that can only come from the Lord.
      While it hurt to leave my MAC family and team, it hurt worse to not be in God's will for my life. My plans are to totally concentrate on school until I graduate. I have my own freelance makeup work I still plan to do, but I can schedule it how I feel and it's not demanding or stressful. But no matter what, my plans are back on track with God's rather than my own. Jeremiah 29:11 became more real to me this week than it has in a long time.
      What's the point to my story? So ya quit your job, who cares? It's like this, friends: God has sat me down before to get my attention, and I'd rather Him not have to do that again. I've always known that He wants what's best for me, but in light of Lisa's words, I now see it differently.  God has a plan for all of our lives. He not only wants the very best for us, but He wants the very best to benefit us for years and even generations to come. There's more to the plan than just Him handing us a blessing. He intricately weaves thousands of pieces of the blessing together to form the larger work of art that is us. Every person we meet, every circumstance we face, every word we speak, and everything we learn...from slumber to playtime, God is creating a masterpiece of our lives with each piece of who we are individually that will shine His glory and wonders, and spread His love and words. It's not about us. It's not about me. It's about Him.
         It's amazing how God works, isn't it. While I enjoyed my time at MAC and my teaching at CHS, I know what God wants for my life, and I knew it from the beginning; it never changed. All of this was a part of the bigger picture. He taught me so much through both experiences that have prepared me for the teacher and leader I'll one day be. And the opportunities to minister to others were always abundant. Oh, what people will say and ask while sitting in a makeup chair. Even now I'm fulfilling His plan for me, but in ways I may not be able to see just yet.  I'm meant to be a teacher and a singer; of these I'm sure. What all that entails, well, I still don't know for certain. But every day God shows me something new; a new color I didn't see before, a new stroke painted with a new brush....and every day I'm reminded of His sufficient grace in all of it.
       I've been watching my Master as He creates the work of art that is me. I'm only 31 so my design by His hand isn't exactly finished. Something new is put into place every single day. Over the past 31 years He has made me His constant daily project. He never puts down the brush, never runs out of paint....and always uses new colors. Bold, bright, and daring colors that surpass any we see in the rainbow. I'm in awe of the work in His hand....

   "...All good things....came by grace; and grace comes by art; and art does not come easy."
  -Norman Maclean

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Difference Between Sugar and Salt

        Every year we see hundreds of summer photos taken by our friends and posted onto the nearest social networking website. While I must admit my greenness at viewing your wet-n-wild family getaway, I thoroughly enjoy seeing your family enjoy vacationing.
       Through this abundance of never ending salt watery filmography, the rest of us, from our humble and not so Caribbeanesque but certainly local abodes, get glimpses of your vacations to the beach with the following captions: Baby's First Time In the Ocean! King Crab Leg Dinner! Check Out My Sand Castle! I'm A Little Sunburned. (Insert sad face here.) I Caught A Shark! DISNEY WORLD!  Then we see photos of couples, their pink cheeks pressed together in the obligatory " we took this ourselves because we're just that talented and awesome" shot. And for 15 years, it never fails, we've all received the Christmas card of the khaki-and-white beach family.
        Don't be ashamed. We've all participated in the capturing of at least one or more of these photos, and we continue to do so. They speak volumes about our families, and the stress relief vacation offers is captured in our eyes. However overdone, we never get enough of these types of vacation photographs, etched eternally into our photo books and memories. 
       While they're all fun and each somehow different from the exact same one Instagrammed right before yours, there is one that isn't quite making the cut in my
book:  the "toes-in-the-sand.....and also, check-out-my-crotch" shot.  
      The point of the "toes in the sand" photograph is to capture the essence of the beach: the first time one walks onto the sand after a long day of driving from North Georgia; the softness of the white earth slipping between her toes but sticking to her ankles as her heels spray the fine shimmery particles behind her; the smell of the salty ocean breeze as it whips her hair around her face and neck in a constant temperature battle with the fiery sun above, both tingling the skin and urging her to jump into the water for cooling. The water. The blue-green waves wrestle one another in attempt to engulf her ankles where she stands: on the sand. It glistens like a sea of unburied treasure, reflecting the light of God's first creation as the wonder of it all pulls the heart of every living thing to it. 
      If I close my eyes I'm almost there......almost.......
      But if I open my eyes I see your dang bikini-bottomed crotch and thighs, and this only reminds me of how hot and sticky it is. I've gotta lug all of my crap out there in the heat of the desert. Did I get the SPF 187? Did I get the umbrella? What about all of the towels? Shoot, I forgot the flippin' cooler so now I'm gonna have to walk back to the condo. Gah! Are you kidding me?! Sand is already rubbing my thighs raw and that a sand spur stuck between my shoe and my big toe?! CUSS!!! 
      See, a close up of your bikini bottom is between you, Jesus, and your husband if you have one. Think of it like this: when you post a photo of your toes in the sweet summer sand prefaced by your baby-maker (which has absolutely nothing to do with the price of tea in China let alone the ocean) you're misplacing the focus of the beach experience. No one that looks at your photo is thinking of your toes in the sand; and every male that "likes" your photo is definitely not looking at your fresh pedicure.......unless he's gay. 
       Hot pink bottom line, scenery, families, and other body parts considered bathing suitable for viewing should make the Summer Vacay memory book share. However, the view down undie might ought to be saved for the hubby. 
       With all of the vulgarity seen on social sites, television, and in other media, it is a constant struggle for women, especially teen girls, to hold the force pushing their boundaries. However, ladies, there is a simple answer for us: be the difference. The Bible tells us that as Christ-followers we are called out and set apart. As women of God we should be the example to an otherwise dying world. Even in imagination, you belong to your husband. Don't sacrifice your body for the two minute thrill of seeing a boy press the heart button on a snapshot of what doesn't belong to him.
       Be the Proverbs 31 young woman whose husband and children praise her and respect her. Be the woman the Creator of the beach created you to be, as different and unique as every wave that washes ashore. Be the difference between the sugary sand and the salty water. Don't be another Instagram beach photo exactly like the one before it. 


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Business of the Body

            I was recently given an assignment in my American Lit. class to write an issue analysis paper. For those unfamiliar, I was to relate a personal experience with one of our previous reading assignments. We had discussed Puritanism and I had skipped ahead and read "Sinners In The Hands of An Angry God" by Jonathon Edwards. Recent spiritual revelations sparked the very passionate and poignant (for me) paper I wrote, full of questions, thoughts and words that I've been mulling over in my mind for quite some time now. In retrospect, I nailed the church to the wall and I made no bones about how I feel regarding my affiliation with it....and how I'm finished with the politics, the legalism, and the building. Give me a moment to explain why you're going to find the word “church” in quotations and why I’m pointing my chubby little finger at it: First, the church is the body of Christ, not the building. We don’t go to church, people. We are the church. Second, I was born and raised a Southern Baptist. As a friend always said, “I was there for service nine months before I was born, and I’ve been attending ever since.” I believe the Southern Baptist doctrine; the first songs I learned to sing came straight from the Baptist Hymnal (ie., the Bible set to music), and I was a card carrying member of the Girls in Action. As a leader within my youth group I attended every camp and sang every solo I could get my hands on; which brings me to the second most important point of being a Southern Baptist: choir. I’ve been singing in public since I was 5 years old. Essentially, I’ve been singing for over 25 years, but specifically in the adult choir for almost 20 years, and have sung more solos and high notes for more revival pastors than I can count. This all makes me entitled to talk about just how screwed up the church really is on the inside. Before I say anymore I want to preface my words with the following disclaimer:  I do not believe that all deacons and church leaders fit the descriptions I give. However, I do believe that we are all in some way responsible for the decline of the Body's mission, if only for allowing all that we've allowed. I am in no way, shape or form condemning any one person for the crack in the machine we've created. I’m also not naming local or outer church establishments, nor will I call anyone out with the exception of myself.  This is God’s job, guys. And in the end, I’m just as guilty because I went along with it and believed it for so many years. This is why I'll use the word "WE" in reference to the whodunit. I am still a part of the body, too. But I know that part of my job as a Christian is to bring to light the definition and purpose of the true church. Much of what you'll read below is my issue analysis; however, I felt so strongly about my topic that I added more to it. My 750 word assignment turned into 1900 words and now I'm at almost 3,000 and still going strong. It breaks my heart that I have that many words to support mine and my fellow believers' actions. Again, as hurt as I am by the actions of others, I'm more hurt by my own. I wrote this paper out of anger, remorse, and above all, I wrote it out of love and the passion I have for Christ and His body of believers, in whom my hope rests. If a reader is offended, please let it not be by my words, but rather by the fact that we all as a collective body of believers have failed to conduct ourselves in accordance with God's words to us.

The Business of the Body
            For 31 years I’ve been taught in and out of church that church was not just something one did or was, per se, but a place. A place where I was to be spiritually fed and practice all of the motions taught to me by those that were so high and holy, my only goal in life would consist of me trying to achieve their level of greatness while still forging for their approval. This place was usually constructed of brick and wood and the middle rose to a point, a visual oddity that only supported its title of "church." The point, the steeple, was the symbolic outcry to the world: God lives here. By the way, you won’t find Him anywhere else. If the building didn’t have this particular look, it could not possibly be considered a “church.” There was always a certain type people group inside of this building, clad in plastic smiles and plastic hair, all wearing their finest and toting the largest Bible they could find on their way out of their homes on Sunday morning. Going to church was a practice: Sunday morning services, Sunday evening services, and Wednesday evening service. If I really meant business, I would show up early for fellowship supper before Wednesday’s service. Attendance was and still is part of the calling of a “good Christian.” I was taught to follow all of the rules. The Big Ten were the main rules, but there were also other regulations set in place and it never occurred to me until recently that some, perhaps even the majority of these rules, were not even biblically sound. 

This was where the questions began; this was where the truth of God’s Word came to me, and all I had to do was read it for myself…really read it for myself, not allowing a leader to guide me, but rather allowing God to guide me….which is how walking with God is supposed to be in the first place.

         Amidst all of the chaos that is the modern day church, I was able to climb above the noise of the flesh and find my God and His will for the body with which He blessed His people. I found that legalism and politics entrapped what I am sure was initially meant for God’s glory and the furthering of His kingdom. However, the hierarchical competition that engulfed man’s need for recognition by God and society had caused an uproar in the modern church and an abandonment of the Holy Spirit within it, not because He left, but because we ushered Him out the door.  In reading and discussing Puritanism and its roots during class, I found myself debating the very definition of the present day Southern Baptist church particularly, and its many traditional intricacies; my heart broke when I realized what category my doctrinal and spiritual beliefs had fallen. Southern Baptists may not preach or even believe in Calvinistic theology, but our offensive and judgmental behavior speaks otherwise.
            Once a soul is born again he becomes part of the Body of Christ. The Bible says that there is only one body, but to that body there are many parts (1 Cor. 12:12.) However, no one part is more important than the next (12:4-6). As a collective body, we support each other and hold each other up against the prowling lion that seeks to devour us in the night. We work as a single unit; and though we share one body and mind in Christ, we have different gifts in Him as well that make the body function. For example, some people are gifted in preaching, some singing, some worship, others in missions or even encouraging. Some are teachers while others are patient and lead with quiet spirits. The many gifts that make up the body of Christ are intricately woven together by God to create a single being with Christ as the head.  Man had the proper understanding of his divinely inspired vision in the beginning, but I believe he confused and even perverted God’s plan for the church when he allowed his fleshly desires to rule his heart. For this very reason the Puritans broke free of the Church of England; their mission, as explained by Martin Luther, was to be free in Christ just as God had promised in His word. Luther said, “Neither Pope nor Bishop nor any other man has a right to impose a single syllable of law upon a Christian man without his consent." And as followers of Christ we, too, know that we're not bound by any law, rather we're covered mercifully by grace. (Rom. 6:14) 
         Luther and the Puritans recognized the gospel’s position on traditions and man-made ordinations; but they forgot that they were just as human as the holy fathers that were condemning them. They fell right back into the doctrinal trap they so despised. Because God is not the author of confusion, it’s only logical that worship should be reverent, respectful, and completely focused on Him. However, man with his initially pure intentions took the gospel’s definition of reverence and respect and formed his own idea, one containing the backing of committees, programs, and human traditions, all of which the Bible does not favor. From there came what we now know to be church politics and legalism, a hierarchical organized business that competes against its own for bragging rights and victory laps. This is not what God intended for His beautiful body. Instead, He intended unity and peace in the body, again, with one singular mind and one singular thought.
            I first began to notice the Southern Baptist checklist several years ago. Until then I had been under the assumption that the many ritualistic church routines we practiced as Baptists were all a part of the Christian "process." My questioning of one of these particular practices started my quest for answers that were true to the Word and not a man-made idea.  I asked a question in my adult Sunday School class that probably had never in the history of Southern Baptism been uttered, especially on such holy ground as the Baptist church’s: “Why do we even dress up for church?” The response from a sister in Christ was disheartening: “Because we want to present our best to God,” she answered, very matter-of-factly as if my question was a no-brainer. After a moment of sinking in and a look from my pastor I replied with, “But that’s not in the Bible....” In fact, the Bible tells us that we are but dust and ashes. The only presentation we have to offer is our life, and to offer it as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. (12:1) How does dress code fit into this Biblical equation? God doesn’t need us to “present our best” to Him. In fact, God doesn’t need us at all. He wants us. The creator of the universe, the one who holds all of life and its questions and answers in His mighty hand wants us—we are His most prized possession. What we're wearing will never change this fact. And He doesn’t want just one or a select few of us. He wants all of us. This idea of dress has only slammed the door to accepting the “all” that fall short of God’s glory. (3:23) We pick and choose who we want and don’t want in our local establishments. I imagine the conversations behind closed Sunday school room doors between deacons and ladies’ committees being more like gossip rings in which they fan the flames of the fires started by their tongues in an effort to burn the innocent and scorch the spiritually needy, only readying them for the hell the “chosen” few of the Baptist church have prepared for them if they dare step foot into the freshly vacuumed sanctuary. After all, we do have a certain look about us: cookie-cutter. We are the Stepford church, the Mary Poppins of religion: practically perfect in every way.
         The Puritans wanted freedom of worship and a personal relationship with Christ. Isn’t that what the Gospel is all about? Isn’t that walk with Christ what we preach and value? Through the Holy Spirit’s prompting, Luther opened their eyes to the New Testament and the message within proclaiming that the only direct line to God was through Christ rather than a priest or any other medium for that matter. Their freedom was in Christ, but they failed to see that this freedom and grace that was offered so freely was offered to all, not just the elect. Again, the idea of the predestination of the elect was a modified version of what the Church of England had taught them. In today’s Southern Baptist church we preach that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God", but that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." We believe and preach that the gospel is infallible and without error, but we tend to be very picky about those we allow into our holy realm. We have created a tier of sorts with the wealthiest and supposed holiest reigning over it. Fundamentally, we're taking God's grace, tucking it into our name-brand pockets and distributing it how we see fit to whomever we choose. Human, needy soul, child of God….it doesn’t matter who you are. If ya don’t look the part ya don’t get to be in the play. Instead of a church, we’re a country club. You’re not worthy to join. You’re not welcome. You’re not chosen. But we are.

 There it is, folks: the Southern Baptist regime, aka, Calvinism. We’ve become all that we preach against and from what our forefathers escaped. 

        Next, I was presented with ideas of praise and worship. The Bible is unapologetically clear on worship, what is acceptable and what is not. God’s Word talks of raising one’s hands, singing, dancing, the playing of many different musical instruments, and even speaking in tongues as well as exclaiming praise in one’s own language. These are all different gifts that make up the body as well as praise our Creator. However, in the eyes of some, anything that causes another to shift uncomfortably in his or her seat cannot be considered an act of worship but rather a "distraction." This view that the current church poses on the acts of worship and one’s personal praise to his Lord closely resembles the failed Puritanical belief system that worship was to never include music or singing. If the Southern Baptist doctrine is so keen on following the Word of God, we have made a serious mistake in omitting the book of Psalms to fit our definition of what is holy and pleasing to God. In theory, half of the Baptist hymnal is based on the book of Psalms, which makes the Baptist legalistic argument against styles of worship invalid.  
       So many times have I personally been called out for being "too charismatic" when I sing. So many times have I heard "the powers that be" complain about instrumentation and rhythms. All too often I have seen the formation of a committee decide what vote should be put into place to determine a new choir director. Our main concern isn't if the prospect will allow the Holy Spirit to lead him, but what style of music he prefers. If we can nail him on a style, this will box him in with so tight a seal we won't have to worry about him following the Spirit. Thus, he'll be easy to control and manipulate, all with a few dollars. The price of worship is, after all, very high.
        This brings me to money: the battery behind the Baptist machine. Baptists and finances don’t mix. The two are like oil and water. I’ve noticed this as well. For one, we preach that the love of money is the root of all evil. Based on our actions, I often wonder if we actually even believe this portion of the Bible because we certainly don’t adhere to it. But how is that any different from omitting so many other parts we don’t agree with, or even adding so many that are unnecessary? By doing this we also omit Revelations' warning to not add or take away from God’s word. In taking a step back, we’re in essence gossiping about God and what He really said. To be blunt, we’re making up a bunch of crap and calling it "God’s laws."
        As a body we're not called to hoard money. It's not our money to hoard anyway. It belongs to God. Making decisions on His behalf without following His commands concerning how it's distributed is blasphemous. Do we really think we're so superior that our judgment is paramount to that of the Father's? As the body we are to make sure no part is in need. Acts 2:45 says that the church  was so in tune with one another that no one was in need. When we see a portion of our body in need we're to aid it, not turn it away. I have recently heard of boards being created to determine whether or not a family within the "church" is worthy of receiving aid from the rest of the church. I've seen families unable to pay their bills or even buy groceries because they've lost jobs or there has been sickness. Whether we like it or not, money is a necessity, one that is all too often unattainable due to our country's current economic status. Where are people to turn? Their family in Christ would be the logical answer....but by the time they've had to bare their souls and bank accounts to a panel of "judges" who essentially hold  their fate in the palms of their arbitrary hands, the bank has repossessed and the kids are praying for a miracle for mom and dad. People, if our physical body is in need we nourish it. When it's hungry we feed it, when it's thirsty we give it water, when it's tired we rest it. We don't ask for a vote. It's not a very rational way of thinking, is it. When the Body of Christ is in need, we're to provide for those people, not worrying if we're going to run through the church's line of credit and, heaven forbid, not have enough left over for the decorating committee. God promises to provide according to His riches in glory (Phil. 4:19). Our only calling in this area is to trust Him and give to His people. 
        I've talked quite a bit about committees, programs and deacons, but for the sake keeping my already broken heart, at the very least, still beating, I'm only going to address the appointed elephant in the room. I fully believe that deacons are a driving force in the church body.....but this doesn't mean that they're to look down their noses at the rest of the body. In fact, deacons are called to be servants of the body. If there's a need, they're to set an example and jump to providing for that need. There is no holding of the purse strings for deacons. That's a little too close to Judas Iscariot for comfort. And contrary to popular belief, being the chairman of the deacons does not constitute making oneself the CEO of the church body. The only CEO is Christ. Furthermore, the Body isn't a company so why put executives into place? The first deacons in Acts 6 were appointed for benevolence purposes, not business purposes. Essentially, deacons are called for comfort, prayer, support, encouragement, and evangelism. The word deacon comes from the Latin diakonos which means helper. Therefore, deacons are ordained as such for these purposes, which do not include financial purposes, but only spiritual. If a deacon board is adding finances and bodily decisions to its list of activities, that deacon board is nothing but a glorified committee which holds no place in the Body of Christ and certainly doesn't help it. Let's think about this the next time we hold a "business" meeting before Wednesday night's prayer service, led by our deacons. To again quote Martin Luther,"The dioconate is the ministry, not of reading the Gospel or Epistle, as is the present practice, but of distributing the church's aid to the poor." I've known quite a few deacons in my 31 years, and quite a few deacons' wives so I don't want to stereotype. Some of them I consider blessed to know and even more blessed to have been under their guidance. These few men were and are truly God's servants, willing to put their own needs and wants aside for the betterment of the Body. If only every man ordained as a deacon was as much help as these men are/have been.
          We have lost the vision of the Great Commission: to go into all of the world and preach the gospel to all, to live out the love of Christ and to bring the lost to Him. We preach it but we refuse to follow it due to the standards of greatness we have set for the Christian man. In essence, we are too holy and too good to move out of the padded-pew comfort zone we have created for ourselves. The inside of the church building is beautiful and quaint; we know the people who inhabit it and we have no intention of adding someone who may cause distraction in his or her appearance, life, or humanity in general. Instead of acting as a body we form committees and delegate our idea of the so-called "holiest" to make our decisions for us. This power comes with great responsibility; rather than keeping Christ as the head of this power, we take it into our own hands; soon these delegates take charge and the internal struggle between carpet color and the idea of a drum set in the church’s sanctuary becomes the forefront of the church’s mission. Money issues arise and there is no longer a burden to help the needy portions of our body, but instead a burden to move them out of the church’s path in order to keep up appearances in the Southern Baptist community. We simply omit the Gospel as it no longer meets our standards. Furthermore, we refuse to follow most of what the New Testament’s mission says in general. Men have become so spiritually arrogant that they see themselves as the head of the church by setting contradictory rules, deciding how worship and the personal relationship between man and the Father should be conducted, predestinating God’s children, and making church a business rather than cherishing it as the body. Our pastors and our congregation are mere puppets tangled in the strings of legalism and church politics. We have pulled away from the Gospel to which we once so desperately cleaved, and have made a mockery of the body of Christ.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Peanut Allergy, Shmeanut Allergy

      Last Tuesday Lilli's doctor repeated her blood-work for her peanut and tree nut allergies, all of us carrying the hope that things had gotten better. However, we learned today that not only was there no improvement, but the allergies have worsened significantly. There are two sets of numbers; the first is the allergen's severity which is measured on a scale of 0-6, 6 being the worst an allergy can get. Second is the IgE number--that is, the level of immunity against something, in Lilli's case, nuts. This number ranges from 0-100, 100 being the worst.
      Today we found out that Lilli's peanut allergy went from 73 to well over 100, making her severity level a 6. Her pistachio and cashew severity levels are now at 3. The GREAT news is that her walnut allergen severity has moved down to a 1. This gives us a little bit of hope, even if it's only the size of a mustard seed. ;)
      Obviously we are a bit discouraged. We're only human, after all. Lilli hasn't had a single reaction in over 2 years, and we're always very careful of this as an allergy has the potential to worsen with every exposure. She's conscious of always keeping her meds on her, and her classmates, teachers, and of course our family and friends are always watching out for her.
      There's so much we have to be thankful for in the way of her health--we're so blessed that she's such a healthy baby! Regardless, this nut allergy is very difficult for her to understand, and disheartening. She often asks, "Why did God pick me to have a peanut allergy?" What can a momma and daddy say to that? I often find myself asking, "Why did God pick me for MS?" Then I remind her as I am reminded, "It's not by your strength that you can handle this, but through GOD, you can handle anything." What a testimony of faith and trust she has for other kids, and what glory goes to the Father because of it!
       I know some people say that it's "just" an allergy. We're not taking for granted the blessing we have in a nut allergy, and Lilli knows and understands just how much worse it could be. But it's hard to trust that something unfamiliar is safe to eat, knowing that if it isn't, it could possibly kill you. It's hard to feel immediately comfortable at big family and church gatherings, even though you know in your heart that no one would allow anything to harm you. But the parties involved have always gone the extra mile to create a safe haven for her and so many other food allergic kids. It's also tough on outside parties; her friends' parents, teachers and even our closer relatives get a little jittery when Lilli visits. They furiously wipe down their houses and classrooms and call me to ask if she's got her Epi-Pens on her and to say, "I bought a brand new bottle of Benadryl! We're all set!" It's funny to watch them freak out (I have to tell them to simmer down), but at the same time it's so humbling that they take so much care in double checking her safety. We owe so much to so many different people for helping to keep her safe! Food allergies are a big responsibility, especially when you're only 8. But it's all she's ever known, and Jordan and I are so thankful that, somehow, Lilli is wise beyond her years in being conscious of her surroundings and making good decisions. (Hopefully that will last into adulthood!)
       "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose," as Romans 8:28 tells us. We also know that "every good and perfect gift comes from above..." James 1:17, and that "He who began a good work in [us] is able to complete it until the day of Christ," Philippians 1:6. God is certainly not finished with Lilli Griffin, and it's no secret that she's supposed to be on this earth giving glory and honor to His name. We gave her to Him before she was even born because we knew God had and has a very special plan for her life and the testimony she's been living out since conception. Because of this, we're trusting in the Lord with all of our hearts and not depending on what we know and understand, but what HE knows. (Proverbs 3:5-6) Through Him, we have strength, and praise God, Lilli KNOWS this!!! My prayer is that through her faith, Christ and all of His glory will shine through her and her little life; I pray that He is glorified, magnified, and exalted so that no one sees her, us, or a peanut allergy, but the wonders and miracles God can and does perform through his grace and mercy. Through this, may we all be strengthened in Him.