Tag Archives: spirituality

Misrepresenting J M

I experienced a little dust-up with a Facebook friend recently. The subject of the dust-up isn’t important, and everything is okay now, but the experience triggered some thoughts about how I’m perceived and what some of my failings are.

Let it be noted that I am still trying to figure out how to integrate Facebook into my world again. I’m still not particularly happy to be back there. And the thing about Facebook is that you’re only really noticed if you’re 1) creating/participating in controversy or 2) sharing Pinterest-perfect lifestyle posts. Controversy gives me a bellyache, and I stink at Pinterest-perfect. I’ve said before–as a wife and mother, I’m a lot more Erma Bombeck than June Cleaver or Martha Stewart.

So in trying to find things to share, I share things that I like, things that speak to my interests and beliefs, things that I think might be helpful to others, etc. I share TED Talks. I share the occasional writing-related article. I share silly grammar cartoons and coffee pictures. And I share posts related to my faith.

What gets the mosts attention/likes? The coffee pictures. My occasional picture of my dog or kids. Maybe a good quote. And a status about something “happy happy joy joy” in my family.

Anyway. This blog post is not about the inanity of Facebook.

Rather, this blog post is about how I communicate my faith to other believers.

Here’s the thing. I’m not very good at sharing why I believe some of the things I believe. I don’t know how to explain it except to give some examples.

When I say that I have some concerns about the culture of “courtship” and the way it’s currently in vogue to push our teens away from dating, somehow, I come across as promoting licentious behavior.

When I say that I have issues with the way we teach God’s will in Evangelical circles, people seem to think that I mean there’s no room for God to work in our lives or that God can’t reveal His will in any way, shape or form.

And when I say that I have an intellectual faith rather than an emotional one, I somehow communicate that I have no room for emotion in my walk with Jesus and that I only have head knowledge.

What do these things have to do with the dust-up and Facebook? Well . . . I started thinking about these things because of the dust-up, and it seems like a lot of these misconceptions about me end up resulting from written interactions (like those that occur on Facebook or in e-mail).

I have to be candid–I’m not sure how to fix these notions.

I can say that I have no intention of promoting licentious behavior in our young people. I think sexual purity is vitally important to our material, emotional, and social well-being in this world. I can clarify that I absolutely leave room for God to speak however He wants to speak in this world. I can tell folks that I have had many, many, many days of pouring out my heart to Jesus in prayer–carpet-fiber-up-the-nose days, in fact, when the only posture adequate before the bone-crushing awesomeness of the Throne of Grace was one of utter prostration (and on those days, if I could have made myself thinner to melt into the floor, I would have).

But it seems hollow to say these things. It doesn’t ring true. It feels like I’m attempting to justify myself and that maybe then I sound like I’m speaking from both sides of my mouth.

It’s a little unnerving that so many of these misunderstandings occur in writing. I worry that maybe I’m not as good at communicating in the written word as I should be for . . . well, for a writer. If these things occur in live conversation, it’s a lot easier to make myself understood. Sometimes. I still get into a lot of trouble on the courtship issue . . .

I suppose the first question is, “why do I care?” And I’m not sure how to answer that except to acknowledge that perhaps I’m more tender-hearted than I care to admit. It hurts to know that I’ve misrepresented myself in such a way as to make people completely misunderstand who I am.

The second question is, “how do I deal with it?” And I can only come up with two possibilities–either stop engaging people on anything where I might potentially be misunderstood, or get better at ignoring the misconceptions. The third possibility–improving how I represent myself–needs to happen either way, but that’s a long process. And even so, I’m not sure I’ll ever really be very good at it.

For the moment, I’m just choosing not to engage. On Facebook, if I post something that might be controversial for some reason, I am choosing to just ignore comments that would draw me into a bad position. If I see a post that might have drawn a comment from me in the past, I am choosing to keep scrolling. It’s the social media version of nodding and smiling–which is, coincidentally, the way I’m choosing to deal with real life conversations.

I suppose this may not be a very interesting blog post. It’s a little bit like the ones I posted in the very beginning. This is me, working out my salvation with fear and trembling, perhaps. It seems like it’s a daily struggle to figure out how to navigate the world when you’re a human oddity.

Perhaps the best I can hope for is to represent Christ well. In that sense, it doesn’t matter what others think of me. It only matters that Jesus is proud of me. So maybe I misrepresent myself, or maybe others think I’m hypocritical, Pharisaical, hard-nosed, unemotional, or even heretical. Maybe that’s unimportant if I’m careful to speak with wisdom, knowledge, and good character.

Ultimately, I’m an ambassador for Jesus Christ. While ambassadors have to be mindful of how they comport themselves, sometimes, they do have to speak hard truths, and they can occasionally misrepresent themselves. But as ambassadors, they have to care less about how they are perceived and more about how the governments they represent are perceived.

I’ll say one thing, though–It would be easier to be a good ambassador for Christ if I weren’t so human.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

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Joy

Hello, Lord. I’ve missed you.

Actually, to say that I’ve missed you is dishonest. One has to have a thing before it can be lost and missed. I’m not sure I’ve ever really understood you at this level before.

You know I’ve been fighting you for a long time. This is nothing new. And you know that I’ve struggled with joy for . . . ever. This is also nothing new.

It happened today–one of those moments that I haven’t had in years–or perhaps have never really had. I’ve been so angry for the last few days, and I’ve been grumbling and mumbling and writing arguments and defenses in my head, planning my assault, daydreaming about obliterating my opponents, prematurely enjoying a sweet victory that will likely never come. And you gave me an hour of blessed time in the car when I could do this–when I could plan my attack.

And then, in a moment, the desire to defend myself, to attack, to revel in my enemy’s blood, to savor sweet victory–it just . . . went away.

Dissolved.

Disappeared.

Melted.

And in its wake was your sweet whisper.

You seek vengeance for a thing that isn’t even worth fighting over. You know what I have called you to. Why do you care what that one thinks? Why do you worry? You can’t add a single hair to your head this way. I am your joy. I am your salvation. These other things are so much flotsam and jetsam. Focus here, right here. I will never leave you nor forsake you.

When my children were small, I told them, “your eyes on my eyes” when I needed to make sure they understood me. Now, Lord, you are telling me the same.

Your eyes on My eyes.

Your eyes on My path.

Your eyes on My will.

Do you understand?

Yes, Lord. And I think, perhaps, I’m finally starting to understand joy.

Joy doesn’t depend on circumstances. Joy doesn’t depend on what other people think of me. Joy doesn’t depend on my house being clean or my kids getting good grades or my husband being in a great mood or my scout troop being at peace.

Joy is a condition of my spirit that recognizes how beautiful and kind and loving and gracious you are.

No, I take that back.

Joy is a condition of my spirit wherein I rest in the knowledge of how beautiful and kind and loving and gracious you are.

There is surely a reason why the psalmist so closely relates joy and salvation. My joy comes from knowing how completely you have redeemed me–how total and complete is your grace, how excellent is your sacrifice, how perfect is your love.

There can be no other joy that could bubble up from the depths of my spirit this way. There could be no other truth that would draw my eyes away from earthly hurts and fix them firmly on you.

So yes, Lord Jesus. I have missed you. But I have missed you as one who has missed the sunrise for sleeping past it for a dozen years.

I have missed you not because you left me, but because I wasn’t looking for you.

You were there all along, waiting to bathe my soul in the warmth of a new dawn.

 

A Prayer

Lord,

Give me the patience to wait when you say, “not now;”

The courage to charge when you say, “I am giving you this victory;”

The wisdom to know the difference;

And the humility to praise you in either circumstance.

 

Give me peace when you are silent;

Fill my lips with praise that overflows my heart.

Make ready my feet and hands for your open doors,

And embolden my spirit to do your perfect Will.

 

Lord, may I know when to rest and when to work,

When to bow my head and when to lift my eyes,

When to speak and when to listen.

 

Soften my heart,

Open my eyes,

Unstop my lips,

Free my hands,

Unshackle my feet,

Engage my mind,

Fill my ears with songs that anticipate my eternal life in your presence.

 

Make me ready, Lord, for the works you have prepared in advance for me to do.

May your strength always be made perfect in my weakness.

 

Amen.

Resolved

I surrender all, I surrender all,

All to Thee, my blessed Savior,

I surrender all.

— I Surrender All, Judson W. Van DeVenter

Once again, I find myself driven to my knees before the Throne of Grace, begging for forgiveness. This time, though, it’s different from the last time–the time when God pried my writing out of my clenched fists.

This time, I have begged forgiveness for depriving the Body of Christ from something I am uniquely qualified to give.

Once again, I have been prideful and arrogant. I thought I knew best. I thought God was a fool for giving me the desire to write and the gift of the written word. I thought He made a mistake. I thought I could stifle this gift (or curse, as I often considered it) and these stories by serving, by engaging in other hobbies, by focusing on any one of a hundred other things.

But this week–this time–I have realized that I was wrong.

So, here I am with open hands and heart, resolved to take and to give whatever He wishes. I am tired of fighting Him. I am tired of giving the enemy a toehold in my heart–a way to keep me distracted and unfocused on the Savior. I am tired of my pride, fear, busy-ness, and all the rest coming between me and what my Lord wants me to do–how He wants to use me.

Only a fool would fight the Living God and assume she could win the argument.

I have been meditating this week on how often the Bible mentions fear and exhorts the members of God’s kingdom to put aside fear and trust that God is for us. God knew how weak-willed we would be–how fearful we are. I asked myself this week–what is it that I fear in God’s Kingdom?

Death? No. I don’t fear death.

Missions? No. I intend to participating in some kind of foreign mission at some point–just waiting for the right open doors.

Serving? No. I serve Him daily, weekly, at American Heritage Girls. While my position was terrifying at first, I’ve sort of settled into it–and indeed, have rested upon the assurance all along that His strength is made perfect in weakness.

Being called a fool, a bigot, a liar, a moralizing prude? Yes, a bit. But while such words sting, they are only words. Christ was called worse. I can stand it, given a bit of time.

Failure? Now we’re getting closer to home. Yes, I fear failure. But if I am obedient, then am I ever really a failure? If I trust God with the outcome, then I have to trust that His outcome is the successful one, whatever form that takes.

Sharing my writing? This is the fear that paralyzes me. And this is where I had to open my hands and realize that I was still clinging to my writing.

Still. After all this time. After all this pain. I was still holding onto it.

A hard truth.

So, this week, I am resolved.

I am resolved to trust God. Right now, He’s only asking me to write. I can write. I can be faithful with the gift He has given me. And if I am faithful in this small thing, then perhaps I will eventually be trusted with bigger things.

I am resolved to ignore the whispers of the enemy in regard to current literary trends. It does not matter that much of modern fantasy is trending dark with dark antiheroes. It does not matter that the self-publishing trend has flooded the market with a plethora of truly awful, yet successful, books. It does not matter that editors at major publishing houses said my work wasn’t worth buying. The publishing trends don’t matter. They don’t affect what I write. I will just write the stories God has given me to write.

I am resolved to make good art–to write the best stories I can write, using all of the tools at my disposal, and actively work to improve my craft.

I am resolved to move forward with a spirit of courage, putting aside a spirit of fear and kindling afresh the gifts that God has given me. As Craig Groeschel recently reminded in his sermon series on Fear, we are responsible to be obedient; God is responsible for the outcome. I can be obedient.

I am resolved to believe, actively, on a daily basis, that God has given me a gift, and that to squander it is as disobedient as idolizing it.

My hands are open, Lord. Place in them the story you want me to tell, and I will give it back to You daily as a sacrifice. Do with it as You will. And when it is ready–when it is told to Your satisfaction–I will share it, if that’s what You ask of me.

I surrender all, Lord.

Amazing Stories

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

— John Newton

I had a conversation a few days ago with several church folks, and the topic turned to sharing our testimonies. One of the men told how he had been in conversation once with an elderly woman who said she didn’t know how to share her story. “I have a boring story,” she told him. When he asked her to tell him more, she told a fantastic, amazing story of the power of prayer and God’s faithfulness.

I have been in a position of believing my story “boring” and “dull” many times. Of course, in talking to those believers who have what we might consider “exciting” salvation stories, they always say they would have preferred my background–brought up in church, saved at an early age, no significant consequences from the bad choices I did make, no arrest record, etc.

It’s easy to think my salvation story is dull. But the truth is that none of us have boring stories.

I have considered many times that we don’t fully understand God’s grace. When John Newton wrote “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me,” we think he was only talking about himself.

He was talking about all of us.

If we fully understood God’s grace and mercy, I think none of us would ever again apologize for having a “boring story.”

Rather, we would understand that we all have amazing stories.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

Connection

Another week down. I am ashamed to admit that I forget I have this blog. I can glean two insights from that truth: one, that I no longer blog incessantly/obsessively, and two, that I am most likely in one of my drawing in phases.

I go through these phases periodically. I find myself just tired. I haven’t been as active on Twitter lately, either. The bulk of my Internet use of late has been the occasional retweet and the habitual pinning of sewing and knitting patterns on Pinterest.

But in the interests of accountability, I thought I should share briefly about my new endeavor. It’s nothing dramatic for most people, but for me, it’s huge.

I joined a women’s Bible study.

[Cue the dramatic music.]

This move was a difficult one for me, especially in the midst of a “drawing in” phase. I didn’t do it because I felt like I was missing out on something or because I have friends there or anything else. I did it because . . . well, I honestly still haven’t figured it out. I guess I just felt like I should. I had some sense that I should be there.

This particular study group has been meeting one weekday morning a week for twelve years, and I’ve always found a reason not to attend–small children still at home, my freelancing schedule, limited emotional resources to pour into something like that, disinterest in the topics, etc. My children are all in school now, and I’m no longer writing (though I certainly have plenty of work to do on American Heritage Girls and other things), so my practical excuses were at an end. I decided that I should probably give it a shot, if for no other reason than the value of accountability in pursuing my own personal time in the Bible.

But there were other reasons as well–ones that are much harder to talk about. This past year has been so painful for me for so many reasons. In addition to shutting down all of my writing endeavors, I also found it necessary to say goodbye (or at least “see you later”) to a lot of people who I found too draining on my spirit and psyche. Many of those people were writers, sadly. I said goodbye to a community, and that was not easy to do, but it was a community where I didn’t feel safe. In truth, I haven’t had a community where I could be safe and “unfiltered” in a very long time. So I guess the point is that I had to go looking for community.

Last week, the lesson focused on how vital it is to be connected with other believers, to be “in fellowship,” to have “koinonia.” And I fell apart. I confessed to this group of women who barely know me that I know I’m hard to love, that I don’t fit the mold of a proper church lady, that I fully expect rejection by the church.

And lest you think that they gathered around me in a big group hug . . . well, no. They didn’t. Which was fine, because I didn’t expect it. There were verbal assurances that it was okay to be introverted and everything, but mostly, I felt like these other women didn’t really understand what I was saying. Mostly I kept hearing that “we need connection, we need fellowship, we’re made for that, blah, blah, blah.” And I tried, in my faltering, blubbering, tearful way to say that I just can’t be that way.

Listen, church. Maybe you don’t mean it this way, but when I hear “we need fellowship,” all I can see is another month full of potlucks. When I hear “we have to be connected to other Christians,” all I feel is threatened by judgments that I know will come down on me once people know me. When I hear “iron sharpens iron,” I hear “your salvation depends on you being with other Christians.”

I suppose all I’m saying is that for some of us, connection doesn’t look like a calendar full of Approved and Sanctioned Church Events (TM). For me, just having five or six close friends who share my beliefs is probably enough to satisfy my need for connection and social interaction. I get teaching online and through reading. Mr. P and I have long theological discussions. I have two or three online friends with whom I can discuss deeper issues of faith and art and the tension that lies in that whole subject. My mom and I are close, and we talk about a lot of the practical issues around raising children to be men and women of faith. And I have a close friend with whom I can discuss those things as well, even though we differ on some things in our approaches.

So why am I there?

I still don’t know. I’ve gone two weeks now, and I haven’t had any kind of epiphany or breakthrough, really, last week’s blubbering aside. I have mostly spent the last few weeks with my stomach tied in knots in anticipation of going. To be candid, that’s probably what triggered the blubbering–not so much the topic, but the tension in my stomach and my spirit. It’s possible that any topic could have triggered the blubbering.

Yet I still feel drawn to go.

I still haven’t decided whether to go back this week. I can think of a million reasons not to and only one in favor–that I have this urge to be there. It’s possible that it’s just simple obedience. What I fear, though, is that I’m just falling into another checklist theology. I don’t want to be a checklist believer–a follower of Christ who slavishly marks off all the “dos” on her list because they are all “what a good church lady does.” I want to love the Lord with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. And I fear that I will end up resenting the Lord because of random checkboxes put on me by the church, not by Him.

So I suppose the question is . . . are these the church’s checkboxes or the Bible’s checkboxes?

I will admit to having a lot of personal baggage about women’s study groups in general and about interaction with church people. I have just always felt rather like a black sheep or ugly stepchild in the church. So it’s entirely possible that this is just me and I just need time to get over my issues and be a participant in the movement I am called to be part of–this movement based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

For the moment? For the moment . . . I suppose it’s just more obedience.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

A Writer

“Christian art is the expression of the whole life of the whole person as a Christian. What a Christian portrays in his art is the totality of life. Art is not to be solely a vehicle for some sort of self-conscious evangelism.”

— Francis Schaeffer, Art & the Bible

I alluded the other day to a bucket full of reasons that I’ve been rather silent lately, and to be honest, I’ve been trying to narrow down the whirlwind of thoughts in my head into something coherent that I can post here. There are so many things going on in our lives right now that it’s hard to pick just one thing to blog about. I have a very long list of comments, commentaries, opinions, anecdotes, ruminations, and witticisms that I’d like to post, but narrowing it down is . . . challenging.

But after some more thought, I’ve decided to post some more thoughts about art–and more specifically, the role of art in my life. The role of my art in my life.

Confession: My art was writing. I was a writer. I was a professional writer for seven years, and I wrote fiction as well for part of that time period. I even self-published some of it under another name. And for now, that’s as much as I will say. The self-published works are gone, unpublished, and I am no longer marketing myself as a professional business writer. I went underground nearly a year ago, and I’ve not surfaced under that old name since.

But as I’ve mentioned here before, putting that art aside has been painful. Did I say painful? I mean gut-wrenching. Brutal. I’ve missed it as I’ve missed a limb. I’ve grieved it as I would grieve the loss of a dear friend. I’ve pined for it. I’ve tried to say that it will pass, that I will find other things to do with my time, that I won’t miss it after a while.

The truth? The truth is that I’ve been lying to myself.

I’ve discovered that when I refuse to indulge in my chosen art–writing fiction–my creative nature leaks out the edges. I end up sewing 12 camo cinch packs in a day or knitting 60 hats, scarves, pairs of gloves/mittens/handwarmers, and cowls in a four-month period. Filling up my time has not been a problem at all–not with American Heritage Girls and school and Bible studies for middle schoolers and all of the other things I do.

But.

But, but, but . . .

My Muse demands indulgence.

I have agonized, wept, fought, gnashed my teeth over this. I have prayed for this need and desire to be taken from me. I have begged God to just erase this all from my heart, mind, and soul. I have wished a thousand times–more–that I had never let this genie out of the bottle.

And still . . . Still, I want–no, need–to write.

I recently stumbled upon Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible, and it was like drinking from a cool stream after a long hike. I devoured his essays on art in a morning, and I came to five realizations:

  1. I am a storyteller–I’m wired that way–and there’s really nothing I can do to permanently shut that off.
  2. If I’m a storyteller, God’s the One who made me that way, and so I have to acknowledge that there must be a reason He did that.
  3. God is pleased with art. God loves beauty, and it doesn’t always have to be a precise representation of the world.
  4. The worldview of the artist is more important than the medium or style of the art. It’s all right to appreciate technical excellence even when you don’t agree with the worldview. But also, the Christian artist has an opportunity to share a worldview, even if the artist doesn’t necessarily share the gospel itself or preach repentance. And that there are artists who are NOT necessarily Christians who can, nevertheless, share a worldview that is compatible with Christianity.
  5. The ideal intersection of worldview and technical excellence results in the best works of art. When the Christian allows a proper, biblically centered worldview to emerge through technically excellent execution, then that brings glory to God and His Kingdom.

Where does this leave me?

Questioning.

I have mentioned in previous posts that I occasionally have interactions with people from my “old life.” I’ve had several such interactions lately. These people do not know each other, and yet they all speak from a biblically centered worldview. They assure me that my previous works of art were valid, worthwhile, of high quality. They suggest–gently, kindly, but forcefully enough–that perhaps I listened to too many outside voices and took those opinions too much to heart. They remind me that, while they understand that being a mom has to be my first priority, I cannot shut off the faucet of these stories forever. If the stories are in my head, they must come out in some way.

And . . . They are right.

I opened a document the other night. Mr. P “caught” me. When he dragged out of me the truth of my activities–that I was writing–he just chuckled. “Honey,” he said, “you don’t have to be embarrassed. You don’t have to apologize. You are who you are, and I love you. Just write.”

And so . . . once again, I am a writer.

For now, for this moment, it is enough.

Till next we meet . . .

J M