Of Beasts and Belles…..

One of my adult daughters and I went to the new Beauty and the Beast movie. Oddly enough, there were many adults in the theater without kids in tow! Truly, Beauty and the Beast is a classic love story; one that teaches us that the soul of another is more important than what is on the outside, that family is everything, that it is okay to dance to the beat of a different drummer, and that in the end we will all live happily ever after. If only life were so magical!

As I sat in my theater seat mesmerized by every moment, every lyric and note, the heartache, and triumph, I also found myself weeping. Come on now, I am an adult woman, well over the age of 50 who does not believe in fairy tale endings, yet I wept! Being the self-analyst I am, I needed to dissect such an unexpected reaction. What I discovered surprised even me.

The tears were happy tears, tears of joy for Belle hanging in there, seeing beauty in the soul of the beast, for loving when others chose to fear, and hate. And, tears for my kids and me having made it to the other side of abuse. Even though we are several years on the other side, in that moment when Belle and the Beast were dancing in the ballroom, the realization hit me with full force. Isn’t it interesting how we are bathed in revelation and light at the most odd moments? I was crying tears of joy, an emotion that had not been a part of my life for a long time; the kind of joy that permeates every cell, the kind of joy that fills every tear flowing down our cheeks, and inhabits every infectious belly laugh.

Abuse robs us of joy, hope, purpose; it sucks the life force right out of our souls. Many who survive abuse in any form never fully recover to experience life on the other side. The insidious nature of abuse lulls us to sleep, brainwashes us into believing that what is happening in our lives is somehow “normal”. The brainwashing tricks our minds into believing that we are the cause of the abuse, that if we were more cooperative, or tried harder, the abuse would stop. Alas, it does not. The only option for those caught in the insanity of abusive relationships is to get out, the first step in living life on the other side, and the beginning of hope for healing the fractured spirit and messed up mind.

I do not believe any can experience true healing without God. God meets each of us at our point of need and He comes in many different ways. Literal lightning bolts from heaven don’t fall, but God does send them to us in other ways. Family may come alongside, a true friend may step up and offer help, whether it be financial, spiritual or emotional, opportunities open up where once there were none. These experiences begin the process of healing as we consciously or subconsciously internalize the reality that we are worthwhile, accepted, and even loved by others. Hope begins to well in our spirits for the possibility of a better life; God is at the center of renewed hope.

Why didn’t God intervene long before the abuse started, before the damage was done? I cannot answer that except to say that we each have free will, the freedom to decide for ourselves, and unfortunately we often make poor decisions; decisions without God’s input. The other side of that is abusers exercise their free will in the lives of others. The whole free will thing sounds like a good deal until it is exercised apart from God’s will and used to harm others. Disaster is usually right around the corner.

Leaving abusive relationships requires trust; trust is in short supply for those of us on the receiving end of abuse, however. At some point many who muster the courage to leave have reached out to God and trusted that He would guide us out of the darkness. Trust does not come easily for us; at one time we had trusted the abuser. The struggle to freedom is real, and the path lit one step at a time. We learn to trust all over again, but this time the One we trust is trustworthy.

To weep real tears of joy was a new step for me on the journey of healing. Many of us harden our hearts to joy, refuse to feel, shut it down in self-preservation. To feel means that we are allowing ourselves to be vulnerable again; a state that many avoid for the rest of their lives. Vulnerability is risky business, even with God.

In some ways the Beast is representative of those who have experienced abuse; Belle saw through the hurt, thru the armoured exterior of self-preservation and protection, and showed the Beast he was accepted as he was, and worthy of love. Her acceptance of him chipped away at the wall he had erected around his heart. If we are blessed, God brings “Belle”s into our lives to see thru the hurt, fear and mistrust. For me, it is my husband. He came along and took all of us on, hurt and all. Is he perfect? Nope, but he has walked thru a lot of healing with us, and taken a lot from all of us as we have worked thru the remnants of the trauma. It hasn’t been easy for him, but he has been understanding and patient; qualities Belle had as well.

In the end, as with all love stories, Belle and the Beast danced their way into their perfect life together. It doesn’t happen that way for us living in the real world, unfortunately. We still have to deal with the disagreements, the misunderstandings, the bills, and the ups and downs of life, but we can still dance as we heal, and feel, for the first time in a long while, joy…..



What is Required; You Got This…..!

I’m basically simple; I like simplicity in all forms, and spirituality is no different. I have always been uncomfortable with all of the “rules” of Christendom. Sometimes it seems as if there is a disconnect between what the church teaches and what the Bible says, and then we become bogged down in the mire of confusion as to what is from God and what is man’s opinion.

Take Micah 6:8, for example,  “Human being, you have already been told what is good, what ADONAI demands of you – no more than to act justly, love grace and walk in purity (or blameless) with your God.” (The Complete Jewish Bible) Micah was one of the minor prophets, and like those before and after him, felt the call of God in his life to turn the hearts of his people back to God. He lived in a time not so much different than we live in today; crooked politicians and religious leaders, greed, and violence. Seems like little changes, doesn’t it? Was Micah successful in turning all of the hearts of his people back toward God? Not any more than anyone else has been down through the ages, but the point of his life and message, and others like him, is that he answered the call of God to warn people about turning from God and toward the evils of the world. Some listened and responded.

Micah’s message was simple: be just, love grace (kindness) and walk blamelessly with God. Can anyone be 100% just, kind, and blameless? Not a chance, but what we can do is to the best of our ability adhere to these principles and we will certainly be on the right track. To walk in love, grace and purity is a pretty tall order for everyone, so why do we need to add even higher standards? We don’t.

All too often we focus on fixing the ills of outward man. For instance, the colorful use of cuss words, smoking, drinking alcohol, tattoos, to name a few. Yeshua called the religious leaders of His day “whitewashed sepulchers”, in other words, tombs that were clean on the outside. Not much has changed. The religious of our day back up the Christian dump truck and bury those seeking relationship with God with myriad thou-shalt-not’s. In so doing, we are concerned with shining up the surface and ignoring the rot underneath. God is concerned with the heart of man; the motivations and intentions that guide or misguide his/her daily life. Does it really matter if we are covered in tattoos, lift a beer in toast while smoking a cigarette and peppering our conversations with colorful cuss words, while at the same time, those who consider themselves “Christlike” harbor hatred, and bitterness toward fellow man, gossiping under the guise of praying for another, or setting ourselves above others in pious judgment? We can cheat, steal, and lie and not blink an eye, but dare someone to tell us they frequent the local watering hole on Saturday nights without the white-washed uttering the requisite  “tsk tsk” of hell bound sinner! Perhaps this sounds harsh, but the reality is no one is perfect, everyone is loved by God, and it is high time we embrace these truths. People are leaving churches, those outside are refusing to even give God a chance because pious pew-sitters demand perfection of those coming thru their doors seeking rest, healing, and compassion.

The message of the prophets, and of Yeshua as He walked the Judean countryside, was to bump our heart motivations up against God’s standards and act accordingly. The measuring stick of standards is the Ten Commandments and the sum of those commandments can be found in Micah 6:8 – do what is right.

It is my opinion we have “westernized” the Bible. Our understanding and interpretation of words and scriptures in the Bible are often inaccurate and narrow; the culture at the time any given scripture was written is not considered, and we interpret words based on our own definitions. Biblical Hebrew has a mere 8,000 words, whereas we have 100,000+. Having so few words it only stands to reason that there are layers of meanings to words.  We have the mindset that God requires humanity to be perfect, or walk in obedience; in the case of Micah, to walk blameless. Blameless, obedience and other like words all have their origins in the Hebrew word “shema”. Shema means “to hear”. Hearing is much more than the physical act of sound waves being interpreted by the brain and fashioned into what we call “words”. Shema means the physical act of hearing, but also heeding the words, and responding to what is heard. In Hebrew, to hear is to do. Additionally, “shema” refers to moral innocence, or to integrity, so be be blameless before a Holy God is to live life with integrity. Humans screw up, we don’t always get it right, and we do not always make sound decisions that demonstrate our integrity, but God is merciful to forgive us when we recognize our lack of integrity and purpose to do a better job in the future.

We don’t all “hear” at the same time either. God journeys with each of us individually. We may technically hear, in other words, receive the sound waves for interpretation by the brain ten times, and then on the next go round, we hear with understanding and a call to action. This is the miracle of personal revelation! The light bulb moment! Epiphany! And at that moment the choice becomes ours to act on what has been heard, to respond, to return to a life of integrity.

The Bible says that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He hasn’t changed; His message is still one of love for His creation, a call to live a life of integrity, to do what is right, to correct our course if we have messed up. Act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. You got this kiddo……

Be Still and Know…..

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 (Complete Jewish Bible) Many of us are not good at “being still”. To be still means we quiet the mind and spirit and sit before God and allow His love and peace to wash over us, renewing us.

When was the last time you tried to be still? I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s nearly impossible for me to quiet the noise of the world. There are too many distractions; family responsibilities, job, church, societal demands, all vying for our attention. Couple all of that with the ills of the world we live in and we get worn down, used up, we feel helpless, hopeless, and empty. Sometimes just waking up in the morning and dragging ourselves through our day is a challenge. Many fight depression, take medications to lift their spirits, turn to alcohol, try myriad remedies to distract themselves from feelings of failure. Some of us purposefully fill our lives with so many activities that we don’t have time to deal with the nagging thoughts that we don’t measure up, that we have missed the mark, have irreparably messed up our lives.

And therein lies the problem; we try to do everything ourselves. Time with God often takes a backseat to all of our other obligations, a quick prayer here and there. Some of us are more successful at scheduling a morning devotional time, but even that can feel like wrestling with the ills of our world, personally and globally. There are too many needs, people to prayer for, situations that need God’s intervention, and pretty soon the “still” part is lost in the noise. Our spirit becomes restless, unsure that God hears our prayers, sees our struggle, understands the in’s and out’s of our trials and tribulations; all because we cannot be still and know.

God’s world and ideals are very different than ours. We are taught to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps when the chips are down, become a self-made person, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and we will miss the blessings if we don’t take initiative to move the mountains in our way. Even if we believe God is in control, we don’t live as if that were true. Why? Because our focus is wrong. Some of us focus on the problem instead of knowing the solution is in God’s hands and plan. Others focus on the prize, the outcome, instead of the One who can move heaven and earth on our behalf. God says, “be still…..and…..know”.

Like many phrases in the Bible the “be still and know” is a coordinate imperative; a kind of if, then. Put another way the coordinate imperatives demonstrate a condition with the resultant consequence. Be still is the condition we are to assume; the consequence will be that we will recognize God as the all-sufficient One.

Our part sounds easy, but it is not as easy as it seems! To be still means we need to stop striving for, well, everything and realize that we have little control over most everything in our lives; that our security, every breath we breathe, every day we inhabit planet earth, is in His hands. We are admitting our weakness in the midst of His strength. The self-made-man attitude must fall away, we need to give up the thought that somehow our puny efforts result in any security we believe we have outside of God.

To be still and KNOW that He is God is to accept the assurance that I am loved, I am engraved on His hand, that I am on His mind every minute of every day. I don’t need to “do” anything to gain God’s acceptance, I can sit still before Him and drink in His love, His comfort, His guidance, His peace, His rest, His wisdom. To be still and KNOW that He is God is to embrace and internalize that our spirits are intertwined and I don’t fight battles, face trials, or overcome  challenges alone.

Find a quiet place away from the noise of the world and close your eyes. Quiet your mind, breathe in deeply, and let the breath out slowly. Feel your body relax. Release your thoughts, your worries, your struggles. Allow His spirit to flow over, around and through your being, let His peace wash away the doubts and fears of not measuring up, because the reality is that you are a creation of the Creator, loved beyond measure for that fact alone; not for your accomplishments, your accumulated wealth or wisdom, not for your works. You are loved in spite of your past, what you screwed up yesterday, or today, in spite of all your flaws and imperfections.

Be still and KNOW that He is God and in His eyes you have not failed. His mercies are renewed every day and we wake each day to a new opportunity to get it right, to walk more closely with Him, to forgive and be forgiven.

I heard a story once that stuck with me.  In the midst of the ocean a storm was raging; the waves crashing and receding with a frightening strength and furious majesty. In the middle of the ocean, far from land, a rock jutted skyward above the waves. Within the rock was a hole, a shallow cave of sorts. A dove sat calmly in the shallow cave, cold, razor-sharp raindrops pelted the rock, the waves threatening to bury the rock and flood the tiny refuge. All around the tiny dove and as far as the eye could see there was turmoil, yet the dove nestled down in the shallow cave that God had provided in the midst of the storm, confident that when the storm passed he would be fine. That, my friends, is the ultimate picture of peace, of being still and knowing, of trusting God.

You see, the ability to be still and know that He is God is to fully trust in the throes of any situation or circumstance life tosses our way.  Stuff happens in life, does it not? Let go and let God is a statement one hears frequently in Christian circles; it is not as trite a statement as it may seem. The meaning of the statement is centered within the words of Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know…”

Where is your place of refuge and peace where you can let go and let God, where you can be still and know? I picture myself in the cave with the dove. My place of peace is the ocean; the ocean is at the same time a peaceful and frightening place, but it is where I am closest to God, able to drink in and fill myself up with His majesty and His power. The place where I can at the same time be in awe of Him and humbled by Him. The place where I can fully surrender my cares, my worries, the burdens of this life and let them be washed away by the waves that ebb and flow. The place where I am most aware that I am in control of little in my life, yet I can trust everything to His care. If you have not ever experienced letting go, experienced being still and knowing, I encourage you to do so. Find your space and place to be still…..

Why Did You Doubt…..?

When the talmidim (disciples)saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said and screamed with fear. 27 But at once Yeshua (Jesus) spoke to them. “Courage,” he said, “it is I. Stop being afraid.” 28 Then Kefa (Peter)called to him, “Lord, if it is really you, tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come!” he said. So Kefa got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Yeshua. 30 But when he saw the wind, he became afraid; and as he began to sink, he yelled, “Lord! Save me!” 31 Yeshua immediately stretched out his hand, took hold of him, and said to him, “Such little trust! Why did you doubt?” 32 As they went up into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 The men in the boat fell down before him and exclaimed, “You really are God’s son!” (The Complete Jewish Bible)

This passage is full of interesting insight into the disciples and their relationship with Yeshua. I have always been fascinated with the relationship Yeshua and His disciples had while Yeshua wore the clothes of humanity. Hundreds of years after the fact, we who believe, clearly see Yeshua as the Messiah, the Promised One. However, there are several passages that hint the disciples weren’t altogether convinced, or at the very least, unclear as to the extent of His power over the laws of the universe.

Of course, we don’t know the exact words that were spoken by any of the Biblical characters, including Yeshua, but the essence and intent is there. For instance, did Yeshua really say, “Stop being afraid”? Maybe, maybe not, but I am certain it was something close to that. In any case the point is the disciples first instinct was to fear, That, in itself, is a whole subject for another blog!

The scripture that caught my eye most recently was, “Why did you doubt?” Being the self-described nerd that I am, I immediately started researching the word “doubt” in Hebrew. Turns out, there is no such word in Biblical Hebrew for “doubt”, so clearly Yeshua didn’t say that exact word. (The original Biblical text was written in Greek) Again, the intent is there, and perhaps what those transcribing what we know now to be the scriptures chose the word that most closely described the intent. So let’s look at the word “doubt”.

In our language and understanding, to doubt means to be uncertain, or to fear. Given that definition it makes more sense. The reason the word “doubt” is used is because the passage is about the disciples’ fear and uncertainty having just witnessed Yeshua walking on water and asking Peter to join Him. How many times has that happened in your life? Probably none, which is exactly the number of times it likely had happened to Peter! So here we have Yeshua answering Peter’s question, “ Lord, if it is really you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Yeshua said to join Him on the water. What else was He going to say? It was Him, and Peter said if it’s you tell me to come out there. Peter had put Yeshua in a box! So Peter gets out of the boat and as soon as the wind  came up he doubted what he was already doing; he was walking on water! Now Peter is sinking and he cries out for Yeshua to save him, and Yeshua responds with, “Such little trust! Why did you doubt?” Why did Peter doubt; he was walking on water for goodness sake! The answer lies in the reason the word “doubt” was likely used in this scripture.

Since Biblical Hebrew has no word for “doubt” we have to assume another word was used originally that captured the intent of Yeshua’s question. Abraham Hershel, a Polish-born American rabbi and a leading Jewish theologian of the 20th century said, “Doubt is an act in which the mind inspects its own ideals; wonder is an act in which the mind confronts the universe”. What does that mean, exactly? Doubt originated in the Garden of Eden and was the original “sin”; Eve doubted God; she had inspected her own ideals.

Prior to that, Adam and Eve lived in wonder, focused on the Creation and the Creator. Along came the serpent and Eve questioned what God had said; that she and Adam needed to avoid the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve’s “sin” is that she looked inward for advice, so to speak, instead of recognizing the wonder of the universe and accepting at face value what God had told them. God had never lied to them before, at least not to her knowledge, but perhaps He had about this; and doubt was born. Up to this point Adam and Eve had been totally dependent on God for everything in life, and life was good. The serpent had suggested that God may not have been totally forthcoming about the tree, and so Eve chose to decide for herself what her truth would be for this situation.

Simply put, doubt is deciding that we know better than God, and that is self-idolization. We look at the circumstances instead of the Creator and make decisions about situations when we don’t have all of the facts. Peter was looking into the face of the Creator, God incarnate, bidding Peter to join Him on the water, and Peter chose to let the wind distract him from the truth; he was walking on water. Peter freaked, cried out to Yeshua to save him, and Yeshua “immediately” per the scripture, reached out His hand to rescue Peter, and then asked Peter why he had doubted what He knew to be truth. Did this really happen? I don’t know, but it is clearly another beautiful word picture of a spiritual principle; we need not doubt when we have our eyes focused on God.

A lot of times and in a lot of situations it doesn’t feel like God is involved at all, and I believe this is one of the reasons many choose to move away from God, doubt Him, abandon relationship with Him altogether, or at the very least trust Him less. I have been there. After 30 years of marriage with a very abusive man, and having prayed and believed that God would change the situation, the man, fix everything, make him stop, whatever, it didn’t happen; and in many ways it only got worse, and I did move away from my relationship with God for a time. What was the lesson? Well, for one I hadn’t listened to those in my life who saw that he wasn’t the best choice for me, but it was my choice, and clearly I made a bad one. God lets us do that, and at this point I wouldn’t change any of it because I was blessed with 3 wonderful children, I learned more from that one experience that God has used to help other women, and God blessed me on this side of the experience with a wonderful man who has accepted my kids and me, with all of our wounds and scars, and at times it certainly hasn’t been easy for him. Were there losses? Of course. Days, months and years I will never get back.

I doubted God, doubted that He had a plan for my life; self-idolization. And God allowed me to suffer the consequences of looking inwardly for my own “wisdom” and not to Him. Yeshua rescued Peter when he cried out to Yeshua to save him, and Yeshua will rescue us, too. Will it be right away like it was with Peter? Most often not, but the scriptural truth is still there from which we can draw hope. Eve’s self-idolization moment in the Garden had far reaching consequences for all of humanity, and yet God reached out His hand to rescue His creation in the person of Yeshua. Have you looked inward and leaned on your own wisdom instead of God’s? Yeshua’s hand of rescue is reaching out for you to grab hold…..