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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Same Changes

The dress in the window at 2 on Crescent is gone now.
After months of walking past that window display on work breaks, the iconic dress I always admired is gone.
I never made it mine.
Never satisfied with myself, I never achieved worthiness to possess that dress, much less actually put it on and unite myself to it. Not yet. Maybe in a month. Maybe the month after that.
And the days keep passing and then the seasons change and all of a sudden it’s been years and here you are. In the same place, but the dress is gone. Things do change. Just not the things you expect.
I’m 48 years old now. I never thought I would be 48 years old.
28, yes. 38, most definitely yes—wasn’t that what I was reaching for all along? But 48? It’s hard to grasp.
My mother was 48, but I still wear cool shoes. Doesn’t that count for anything?
Strange changes.
I didn’t expect to be here in this same place and so not the same as what I envisioned either, and I find myself so puzzled by the changes that crept up around me—the ones I didn’t see coming. Mindsets.
“I have no notion of loving people by halves,” says Isabella Thorpe in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. “It’s not my nature.”
The quote resonated with me years ago. Decades ago. I thought it was a universal truth.
It isn’t.
But this one might be: “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
I’ve wrestled so long with this idea of contentment and fulfillment and my own nature to want something that is not clearly defined and somehow out of reach but just barely and if I wait just a little longer or work just a little harder or gaze just a little more determinedly on the face of Jesus and die to self just a little more enthusiastically then any minute now it will be attained. But that change doesn’t seem to come. The Holy Contentment isn’t realized, not that I haven’t tried.
I can’t deny there have been needed changes. Absolutely needed for survival. But one thing I have had to swallow, finally, is the reality that survival isn’t always solution.
Necessary, yes. Absolutely. There is no cause to look back in that case. But looking ahead comes with troubles and questions and choices and disappointments all its own. It's not as if we ever say, "That's resolved and now it's time to soar."
Would I live by formula if I could? To see the end and attain it by a series of calculated steps? To lay a map and follow it? A program. A manual.
Is certainty worth a soulless burden like that? Sometimes I’m not sure. Two roads diverged, that is for sure, and I took one and left the other, not knowing what lay ahead but yes, expecting.
There is a reality over all of this that I want to lay hands on, but the stuff of faith isn’t about grasping with the hands, but taking the next step toward the end, not knowing how way leads on to way, but knowing it does. And somehow, this changing path that’s always still the same is going somewhere, toward Someone.
Maybe that’s why contentment is always just out of reach. If I were truly satisfied in the moment, would the future hold any draw for me at all? Is there a gene for hope somewhere in the human DNA code, and perhaps it pours out its signals at some mitochondrial level that tells me really, we have one foot in another world, and this dissatisfaction is Holy? A Holy Discontentment? A place to rest within dissatisfaction?
We are not yet what we are to become. Loving by halves. Seeking survival in the moment out of necessity. Falling short of reaching yesterday’s goal, yet again today. But on a winding path of loops and detours and dead ends that require some steps backwards at times, always on our way to a destination, a holy one, defined by completion and fulfillment and . . . love. A love that never changes, and in that, changes those that enter it. A love that comforts. Fills. Includes. Desires. Sings. Sees. Leaves nothing wanting.

Isn’t that what Love’s supposed to do?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Already. Almost

Today began with death.

Actually, it began like any other normal weekday. I got up at the same time as any other normal weekday. I let the dog out, like any other normal weekday, at the same time. I wonder sometimes if any of my neighbors know my routine.

But unlike any other normal weekday, this morning there was a guest in the backyard. A small, gray, harmless guest, likely nibbling the clover that grows in patches back there where once there was a lovely, manicured sod--for a little while.

I can't help but imagine her so peacefully nipping and chewing in the quiet, placid setting of early morning, before the houses wake up, one electrical light at a time; before the dawn. With its fences around it, our backyard must feel safe to the little things. That's probably why she came.

But at precisely 6:15am, like every other normal weekday morning, I opened the kitchen door and let the dog out back. She was gone in a flash, like every other normal weekday morning.

I heard the rabbit scream even through the closed doors and windows. Scream and scream. She had not been quick enough to make it through the wire fence at the back before she was caught.

With bare feet and wet head, I went into that darkness to help but I couldn't get the dog off. I had to get a shovel and use it as a barrier between the dog's chest and the fence to pull her back enough to get her to let go.

I'd like to say the day got better. It didn't get worse, but as People of the Redemption, don't we get impatient to see evidence of that redemption right away? I wanted something in this day to fix the horrific way it started.

By mid-day, I was just too restless to keep plugging at the parent and teacher resources I was writing, my mind a flood of memory and sound and ineffable sadness. If I could grab it, name it, I could conquer it, right? And move beyond it? But no. It's there. The reality that things die, and sometimes for no good reason.

So I took a walk.

I do so most days, past the Cathedral of All Souls. Past the shops and empty benches. Over the warpy, hazardous brick sidewalks that I love, even if they are treacherous and will one day likely take me down.

It was breezy and cool and nothing in the familiar setting made me feel enveloped or safe this time. It just felt cold. Empty. Quiet. The church bells didn't ring on this walk. There wasn't even traffic to wait for at the crosswalks. My own reflection in the shop window at the yoga gear store was the only pedestrian I met. In the distance, there was a siren. Punctuation, it seemed to be, on the sentence written this morning: There's always an emergency somewhere in this world of dire need.

I passed the Christmas shop, like I always do, but this time I stopped before reaching the Corner Kitchen. That was it, wasn't it? That was what I needed.

I needed Christmas.

I do hope the women who work in that shop don't get jaded by selling there year 'round. They didn't seem to be today, which is good, because I needed to be greeted with exactly the welcoming cheer they offered. Do they realize they aren't simply offering trinkets, but the artifacts that will be the vehicles of generations of memories, handed down even unconsciously through families that may be strangers to them always, binding hope and love and relationships to the most important hinge in the history of the world?

I wandered among all the baby Jesuses, letting it sink in. Everything there exists because of one absolute truth: God came down. Light shone in the darkness. Death is ended. Love wins.

The words PEACE and JOY are repeated on the shelves and the walls, in frames and painted onto baubles, hanging from the ceiling and knit into clothing and stockings and blanket throws. PEACE, Rebecca. JOY, Rebecca. He came. It is finished.

There's no way to accept that he had to come without seeing the darkness that he came into. And some days are like this--characterized by the experience of the darkness. That I am not feeling the redemption does not negate it though.

He came down.

It is written.

There's a nativity in that store that looks just like the one my grandmother always set out at Christmas time, on the hearth she never used otherwise. I stopped and stood there, remembering her. Remembering happy childhood memories. Remembering promises made long ago. She's gone ahead of me. So has my mother. The childhood I wished for my own children has had far much more pain in it than I ever imagined. I can't give them the good that I would have, if I had the power. The days don't have to start with a literal death of some small, innocent, gentle thing to bring with them the burden of how absolutely tainted everything is...

But God... in his mercy...

Who willingly goes into dark places, into death?

Only the one who cares about the perishing more even than his own comfort. And oh, you and I... we are so much more to him than that tiny bunny was to me. I ran, on horizontal ground, but he came, headlong, downward into the very midst of all the suffering and sin and division and war of the ages, with his face set like stone toward the one and only solution and gave himself into it, so that one day, all we will know is redemption.

PEACE, and courage, and joy today... Already. Almost.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

What I'm learning in the snow

I'm a flatlander.

I grew up in the hot, dry, flat, sandy midlands of South Carolina. I really don't like to be cold. I've never acclimated to temperatures that regularly drop to the teens, and sometimes even to the single digits. When it hits 3--which it does rarely, I grant, but I've seen it happen--I automatically think: Something's broken. This can't be right.

Snow for us more-Southern Carolinians meant a few flakes swirling in the air, which sent us racing in pajamas and bare feet to the window begging for it to stick. If it was enough to cover a car windshield, you could bet school would be canceled.

We had no sleds. Who could possibly afford such an extravagance that would almost never have that proverbial snowball's chance in you-know-where to ever be used? We also had no hills, so there's that. But there's a picture of my older brother, about age 8, pushing me, about age 4, in a cardboard box on what might have been an inch-and-a-half accumulation, around our flat yard. I wore a red knit hat and mittens, and you would have thought it was an Olympic event and we'd just won gold, given the delight on my face.

Even that dusting of snow meant joy.

So snow has a mystic quality to it that even now, almost exactly 23 years after moving to the highlands, where we do get some snow a couple of times a year, and where we do have hills, the effect hasn't worn off. It still has a majestic, magical quality for me.

It still feels like a gift.

Even today.

I have the day alone. Just me and my dog. My girls are away, and there was a tinge of sadness about that this morning. I didn't bound out of bed like I would have on a snow day with them here. I took a very slow start to the day. It was the dog's begging to go out that pushed me to bundle up, find the boots I don't think I've worn since last March, the closest thing to water-proof gloves that I own that are NOT fine leather, and that cute hat I wear only for times such as these, and head out to play fetch with her in the snow.

But there are things I'm learning on this day, alone in the snow. Things I probably wouldn't have learned if I didn't have the time to do it myself, all the while reflecting in the quiet. Here are a few of them:

--When playing fetch in a deep, dry snow with your faithful, furry companion, a wiffle ball is a much better option than a tennis ball. Though it doesn't go as far, it is much more likely to remain visible near the surface of the snow than a tennis ball, which has some power to disappear completely and simply NOT be unearthable (unsnowable?) until the spring thaw.

--While it is a very good idea to act in advance of the snow to stack some dry firewood in a covered spot near the house so that it's usable and easily accessible in case the power goes out, it is ALSO a very good idea to go ahead and bring the snow shovel up out of storage too. I recommend putting it just inside or just outside the door you'll need to use first. I will remember this next time.

--Had my super-economical and labor-efficient grandfather lived where it snowed, I am sure he would have taught me the wisdom of clearing off the TOP step first, instead of starting at the bottom (which was closest, since I did not think to put the snow shovel near the door last night, and had to go out into the backyard shed to retrieve it). Start at the top and you won't shovel the snow TWICE. (Quite a realization for this Southern girl.)

--68 degrees really can feel too hot sometimes. (Does this mean it is possible that I actually COULD acclimate to enjoy the cold? I still hate to think of the conditions I would have to immerse myself into and the extent of time to so suffer before I would come to call 19 degrees balmy or even refreshing, though.)

--Dogs are good company in the snow. They really are. But they are not as good as kids. So this morning, when the beautiful child who lives across the street rang my doorbell to ask if my children could come out to play, the twang of pain in both our hearts when I told him, "No," was real. And I stood and watched with love deeper than those inches of snow, as his little booted feet made the first marks on the pristine landscape. His footprints are still there, and when I took the dog out, I chose to go out the back only, so that my dear little friend's tracks stay undisturbed as long as possible. Merciful God, pour out your blessings on that boy, all the days of his life. 

--Finally, even the shabbiest and most broken of things become beautiful when the snow arrives. My backyard is nothing special. At least two out of five spindles are loose. Deck flooring planks have dried and curled upward toward the sun that, today, I can't believe does actually beat 90 or more degrees down on us many consecutive days in the summertime. The storage building roof is bumpy with lichens and the lattice around the bottom has long ago fallen into shards in places. The lawn... well, once there was a lawn. A summer of drought and dog and children has left it pocked, sparse, weedy. But today, it's truly gloriously beautiful. The Leyland cyprus at the back border claims Christmas is still with us. The cyprus is right. The blemishes in the lawn are covered completely. And so, I'm reminded, are my own.

"Though your sins are like scarlet," my Redeemer promises me, "they will be white as snow." (Isaiah 1:18)

You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. (Psalm 85:2)

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. (Romans 4:7)

Amen and amen.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Attacked by God

Out of the mouths of babes...
Yes, it seems my kids are so often putting it into perspective for me. Or sharpening a perspective. Or making me rethink a long-held, entrenched perspective.

I've been attempting to hold a weekly Bible study with my two elementary-age daughters this fall. We've had some good moments. Most have been trying. I'm far better equipped to teach and explore with older kids and adults than I am with the younger ones, but we keep doing it.

My goal is to touch key points throughout scripture, showing them how God has determined to have a people for himself, and how he makes that possible in Jesus. So far, we've lingered in Genesis longer than I initially planned, but there have been some rich portions to take from it, so it's worth it.

Last week, we talked about Jacob wrestling the Angel of God all night, and clinging to him, saying, "I won't let you go until you bless me." I thought I had communicated the way I envisioned that scene, but you never know what literal-thinking little ones actually come away with.

Last night, we sat down to move on to the sons of Jacob, and I asked if they remembered who Jacob was. Jill's hand shot up, her body wiggling all over like a puppy greeting its master after a separation. "I know! I know!"

"He's the one who got attacked by God!"

What a humbling moment for me. I always think that story is about me, and how I resist God, and how I try to control him for my purposes. It's me-centric in my perception. Or it was, until that innocent and honest and forthright statement. Those of you who know me know it is true: She wrestles with God. Daily. Hourly. I love him and I want him and I do not understand where this is all going and what he wants from me, but I will NOT let him go until he blesses me.

What Jill remembered, though, was that God initiated. God came upon Jacob. God began this altercation with the schemer who was walking his walk as confidently as the Bee Gees approaching a movie camera. He was slithering his way into the life he wanted and he was getting it done. He'd already secured the familial favor of inheritance from his impulsive brother by trickery--no need to wait on parent or labor or even the promise of God for that. Matters well in his own hands. And how did God respond with a "blessing"?

He injured Jacob. He touched his hip so that from that point forward, Jacob walked with a limp. The rest of his life.

No more arrogant strutting for Jacob. No more moving ahead confidently only in his own strength. God hurt him--permanently. To bless him.

From that day forward, every step the supplanter took (that's what the name Jacob means) was a step in remembrance that he was now Israel--he who wrestles with God. And every step would be a reminder of dependence on the one who was guiding those steps already, the one who determines the outcome, which is that he will be our God and we will be his people.

It will be. Whatever it takes.

Oh, how I have prayed, for myself, for my friends, for my children: "Relent, God! Relent! It is too much for us!"

I never would have articulated it this way before: attacked by God. But I've felt it. Haven't you?

Can we look at the patriarch, the hardship of his life, the wandering, the hunger, need, broken families, assault of his daughter, assumption that his most beloved son was dead, uprooting, and then... outrageous, unlikely, lavish, excessive blessing even in this life--the land of the living--with the unthinkable yet to come in the next? Can we claim it too? That it's for a reason, he has a purpose and that I don't get it! I don't get why the injury has to be but will open wounds that are fertile ground for prodigal good--

I don't get it. But I believe it. Can we believe it together? If so, tell me. Tell each other. Tell how he attacked you to bless you and how you're singing as you limp through. As long as it is called today, will you share your wounds to move us all forward? I sincerely want to hear your stories, oh nation of priests. Preach to me of how you were attacked by God and blessed in it.

And if you're not yet sure, keep wrestling. Hold on, and don't let him go until he blesses you. It's what he's about. It's what he does.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Morning After

I woke my daughters differently this morning.

It's usually a palm laid flat on each back, one at a time, and the words, "My little lamb, it's time to get up." And they each complain and ask for more minutes, which they usually get.

This morning, it started the same. The hand, warmth through the blankets. The smell of children sleeping. The gentle stirring, but instead of asking for more minutes, the littlest said, with eyes still closed, "Who won?"

And I told her.

She responded, "Mommy, I don't want to get up. I don't want to go outside ever again."

I know she didn't really mean it, not "ever again," but I also know her heart was honest.

Last spring, a little boy in her class was crying at school. He has brown skin. Black eyes. Black hair. He's small. Another child told him that after the election, he wouldn't be allowed to live here any more. It broke my daughter's heart. I hoped then I was assuring her honestly that it wouldn't be that way. I hope today that's true.

But I know that's still in her memory, and it's likely why she doesn't want to go outside ever again.

But I told her, "We have to, baby. We have to get up. We have to go out. We have to go be the church. We have to love people more than we ever have before. Everybody's hurting. Everybody's afraid. We need to love harder." And she got up. And she went to school. They all did. Life goes on, and our opportunities to be light in it are a little different than they were. We still have a reason to be here.

People with whom I have for decades shared similar ideas and often similar actions held very different views this election season. Discussion didn't bridge the divide for us. "I don't get how you can see this differently than I do" was stated repeatedly. I felt the same way in return.

Many whom I love felt very strongly that one person was their only hope to protect their legal right to hold and express their faith views. That drove their votes.

While I didn't support their candidate or the primary opposition, I feared that supporting the person in whom they put their hope would do far more to damage my faith witness, regardless of its legal status. It isn't so much my legal right to hold my faith that concerns me. It's the actual advancement of the gospel--the good news that there is a God and he loves people and he forgives and reaches into lives and gets people by the heart and never, ever lets them go for all eternity--that I am more concerned about. So even if the law stays favorable, how we get it and how we keep it does matter, because it's on the street with my neighbors and friends, coworkers, shoppers, drivers, parents, coaches, clients--that's where associations are made and connections to the Jesus I know should be realized. Not with a public persona who looks nothing like him.

So we got up this morning. Heavy hearted, but accepting. There's sadness because there's fear and there's hurt among our communities. There's determination, because truth and love are not things anyone can legislate--in or out. And law doesn't lessen obligation or opportunity.

So we got up. And we went out, because we love you. We loved you yesterday and we love you today, and we will love you. We love because HE first loved us. That won't change.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

How Does a Boaz Come To Be?

There's a blogger out there who calls herself A Modern Day Ruth. She is waiting, praying, asking God daily--sometimes hourly--for his provision of a Modern-Day Boaz for her. A kind man. A God-fearing man. A man who will see her, tossed roughly about by life but still faithfully putting one foot in front of the other and being crafted in those moments into a more beautiful person--one who wants to love and is more able to now than before all the crises that shape her. A man who will see that, and despite all the brokenness and history and "not the way he planned it" perspective, choose to love her anyway.

I know a lot of hurt and abandoned women. Many are not so bold as Modern Day Ruth, to put it out there on a public blog--the cries of our hearts. But most have at least wondered: Do they exist? Boaz-es. Today. Are there men like that any longer? And if so, where do they come from? What shapes them into such men who can be strong enough to be bold and stand against convention, and kind and good too, in that strength?

This morning, I heard for the umpteenth time about Rahab.

Rahab the prostitute.

Rahab the lowest of the low.

She wasn't just a woman. She was a Canaanite woman. Ewwww!

She wasn't just a Canaanite woman. She was a Canaanite woman who sold herself to men, and not just to men but to Canaanite men. Over and over.

It would really be hard to find a person who would be considered any more low and unclean to the "holy and upright" men at the time than Rahab. The Canaanite prostitute.

But as we know, she turns out to be the heroine of the story, used by God for the good of his people. The pastor said, "Our markers for shame so often get flipped into signposts for glory."

I have a lot of reason to hope that is true for more than just Rahab. The prostitute.

The pastor had us flip ahead to Matthew 1, to show us how glorious Rahab's story ends up being. You probably know that part of the point of that lineage listed at the beginning of Matthew's gospel is recording for us how Rahab--the unclean--was one of the women in the holy and royal lineage of not only King David but Jesus himself. A Canaanite woman, a prostitute, married into the nation of Israel and credited throughout history in the line that brought God to earth in human form. Glorious, no doubt.

But I knew that. My mind got stuck elsewhere today. Today, the light shone on something else, something much, much more practical and mundane, I suppose, but without it, the Divine embodiment wouldn't have happened so I think it's important even if it wasn't the ultimate.

For the first time today, it actually sank in for me where Rahab's place in that lineage fell. You see, the prostitute, the used and abused and desperately worthless woman--that woman, was the mother of Boaz.

The same Boaz that gets referred to today as the example of what abandoned women long for. The kind, hardworking man who looked outside himself and the business of his daily life and his workers and saw the abandoned and displaced Ruth and cared for her--and felt blessed by her and not embarrassed or awkward or repulsed when she responded to his kindness.

What makes a Boaz?

Boaz was born into a family that seems impossibly unlikely. We don't know much at all about who Boaz's father was. His name was Salmon. Was he one of the spies that Rahab protected? Or just another Israelite who, for some unimaginable reason was willing to take HER as a wife after Jericho fell? We really don't know. But Salmon did the unthinkable and took a Canaanite wife--a woman who had been utterly used by men. A desperate woman. A woman with no hope except to sell her body (and I promise you, her perception of selling her soul with every transaction) to stay alive in a world that saw no other value in her.

And with that union, a son was born, and nurtured into the man that women even today consider the manliest to be desired.

I wonder what the mother-son discussions were like as little Boaz grew into a man. I wonder how he saw his mother, how he loved and respected her, how he learned to dignify other women and to think humbly of himself. (I want to credit his father here too; I can imagine Salmon himself had to be humble and open-hearted and forgiving in an extraordinary way.)

I think we're getting something wrong. I can get pretty anxious about the way that ALL the brokenness is likely shaping my children. I worry about the loss of ideals. I worry about how much they're missing--all that I wanted their perfect childhoods to be. I cannot claim to understand God's economies and how he somehow works something majestic and holy and royal and divine out of the darkest threads in our stories.

But he seems to do so. Because Rahab the prostitute raised a Boaz, and through him nurtured the line of the King of Kings--who binds up the broken hearted and adorns his Bride, who lay in her blood and filth, with purity renewed. The Bridegroom who never abandons. The Kinsman Redeemer who isn't ashamed of his Bride, but glories in calling her his own. The Boaz of Boazes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Captured Thoughts, Renewed Minds

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. -- Romans 12:3, ESV

You know the struggle. "We have the mind of Christ," says Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:16. So why the daily wrestling? Why the return to the old ways of thinking? Is there ever progress or victory in this process of transforming and renewing?

Some years ago, I was in a very dark place mentally. The truth I knew wasn't permeating. It wasn't transforming and it wasn't renewing. The journey out of darkness and into light was long and painful. I'm still on the same journey, but I can say there's progress. It's not a straight-line path toward victory, but over much time, I have learned a little bit about where my own responsibility to work out my salvation in the presence of the Holy Spirit can be expressed and practiced.

This morning, a good friend asked me to share with her my notes from a Sunday school class I guest-taught on this subject after much wrestling on my own in the area of renewing the mind. She asked if the notes were on my blog, and since they were not, I've decided to share them here now, years later, in case they might be helpful to any of you. 

Please don't read this as a formula. We know that formulas and rote mechanics do not work. Though I've broken this into steps, it's a relationship and not a rule book that makes it effective. Let me know how I can pray for you if you're in this place. I want to, beloveds. We need one another, as is spelled out below, and we're made for one another.

Paul speaks about renewing the mind. (Romans 12:2) It is a transformational process that moves us from having minds like the world, like our own natural (called fleshly) states, to having the mind of Christ, which Paul says we do have, as believers. (1 Corinthians 2:16) It isn’t automatic, however, that once one believes, the mind is instantly renewed. It is possible to be stagnant in that process or led astray again. (2 Corinthians 11:3 says: “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”) And we know this. We can all say how we have been tempted by deceptions, tempted both to believe and to act in ways that are not in accord with God’s will. We all know that we have a tendency to make things other than God our idols in our daily lives. So our minds need training, and it is a rigorous training. Paul encourages us to work at it. (Philippians 2:12: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”)

How do we do it? What are we being asked to do when we are told to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds”? Do we simply believe what we believed when first saved and wait on the Holy Spirit to do the rest? I would say both Yes and No. Yes, there is waiting on the Holy Spirit to work. But no, it’s not JUST waiting. There is also an active participation in “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” that is also asked of us. (2 Corinthians 10:5) And it is by this taking our thoughts captive that the spiritual battle, which takes place in our thoughts often before it appears in our actions, is waged. It is in our minds that faith is established and held firm when emotions and circumstances seem to fail us. It is in our minds, when our thoughts are submitted to Christ, that we are renewed, transformed, and able to demolish every argument that sets itself up against the knowledge of God—those arguments that would lead us into unbelief, lack of trust in God, and ultimately sin in deed.

There’s a pattern here: What one thinks shapes what one believes. What one believes shapes how one acts. Change what you think and you will change what you believe. Change what you believe and you will change how you act. Change how you act, and eventually, even how you feel will be changed. But feelings are usually the last thing to change. They do follow, though, in time.

This isn’t exactly a formula, but I have learned a process over the last few years to change my way of thinking, and sometimes my way of feeling. Here, I am breaking it down into five manageable steps to work through calling on Jesus and the Spirit for renewing the mind in a transforming way. It may be most effective to hear it from my own experience, and so I am relating some of that here.

What one believes is what one lives by. Over a difficult period of about 15 years of my life, I had come to believe that I was unlovable, unlikable, and therefore worthless. I believed that the only way I could attain a sense of worth was to meet all the expectations of other people, so that somewhere I would find affirmation. That's deadly thinking, and it’s sinful thinking. It is 1) denying God's own declaration that HE has given me worth and that he has already acted in love toward me with the gift of salvation; 2) denying grace; it is totally works-righteousness oriented thinking; and 3) just simply impossible. People's expectations sometimes aren't known even to them, or they conflict one with another, or they even conflict with real godliness. When I began to realize the truth that it was impossible for me to find a sense of worth from human affirmation, which is what I truly believed I needed, I fell apart. All the management of outward appearances, of trying to be someone I wasn’t, of trying to be someone I didn’t even KNOW, in order to be liked, loved, appreciated, failed me.

I remember the day I began to unravel. It was December 11, 2010. Of course, it had been ongoing before that point, but that was the day I recognized that all my efforts at "holding it together myself" were failing. It got much worse for about eight months. I felt like God had abandoned me. I couldn’t “feel” him with me, and that perception of his absence sent me into despair. There’s depression, and there’s despair. And I despaired. I began to think I must have been made to be a vessel of wrath. The despair from feeling separated from God was more than I could bear. It was the worst experience of my life. It wasn’t real, but it was the way that my mind was led astray by the enemy’s cunning, to deceive me about who God is and what he has already done. There was a spiritual battle going on in my mind—the way I was perceiving circumstances, the way I was perceiving God, the way I was perceiving my own need, and all that needed to be transformed.

What I’m about to explain is how God performed that transformation. First, I think because I am his, and always was through these years, I knew I could never let go of some faith. I spoke it out loud to a group: “I do not know how God is going to get me out of the despair, this fractured thinking, this lack of focus and this new incompetence, but I do believe that he can do it.” I honestly could not see HOW he would bring me back to a functioning existence, but I never believed he couldn’t. That’s not hopelessness. It is an admittance of helplessness. It is an admittance of needing a Savior outside myself. He can, and he does work, but at the same time, we are in relationship, and I have a role in it too. I had to work; it was hard, and it took a long time.

This is the process that I think Paul in particular (but also Peter and John) is teaching us throughout the scriptures for how we work with God--with his presence and power--to transform and renew the mind:

1) The first step is recognizing when a wrong thought has entered one’s mind.
A temptation, a lie, a discouragement, a false trust—anything that falls short of God’s standards for our thought life—is what we are talking about recognizing. That’s what we’re talking about capturing. Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Have you recognized that your trust is in money? Success? Financial security? Did you expect that a "right" sexual relationship would dispel temptations? That self-medicating would solve, or at least dampen, pain?
I recognized that thinking I was worthless and unlovable was harmful, shaping and maintaining my despair and keeping me from being effective for God’s purposes. At its heart, I wasn’t believing God.
At first, it is easy and natural to dwell on the thought quite some time, and even act on it, before you recognize that it is wrong and needs to be addressed. It’s also easy to be tempted to think it’s “just how you are” and can’t be changed. But with repeated practice, just like practicing any skill, it becomes easier to recognize and capture those thoughts. Over time, it does begin to become “the new natural.” We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)

2) Identify the lie or deception in the thought.
Once you recognize and capture the thought, consciously identify what makes it wrong or harmful. By believing I was worthless or unlovable, I was, in essence, calling God a liar. I was believing a lie instead of his truth. Exposing the lie is like naming something. In the Bible, naming something had to do with taking dominion over it. God names the day and the night at creation. Expose it. Bring it to light. Take away its power.  Ephesians 5: 11-14 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them…when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible…

3) Reject the lie or deception and replace it with the biblical truth.
Next, intentionally reject the lie and intentionally replace it with the truth. This is a conscious act of speaking scripture to yourself. Some Bible knowledge is helpful to have, so that the sometimes muddy, unbiblical thoughts can be replaced with clarity in Bible truth. But even if you don’t yet know the scriptures that back up the truth about your particular situation, then this is a good time to begin to search the scriptures, again intentionally, for God’s words that do relate.
I wasn’t believing God’s promise that he had chosen me before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4) That I was adopted as an heir, a dearly loved child. (Ephesians 5:1) That my faith had equal standing with the very apostles. (2 Peter 1:1) That he had prepared in advance good works for me to do (my life matters in his plan). (Ephesians 2:10) And that nothing could separate me from his love (Romans 8:38) which has already been proven by Christ not turning away at the Cross. (Philippians 2: 6-8) These are the truths that counter my own damaging deceptions.

4) Ask for help. PRAY.
This is not about works righteousness. It is not just a “power of positive thinking” process. It IS a power process, though. Positive thinking may help for a little while, but alone, it will fail us too. Pray, pray, pray. Pray at that moment that you’ve caught yourself in the thought. But in your next devoted prayer time, pray again, more intently, consciously confessing with honesty to God where this weakness is for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:17) Ask another person whom you trust to be real and transparent to pray with you and for you too. (James 5:16)
I will add here that I know, believe me, I know, how hard it is to be vulnerable enough to tell someone else the darkest secrets of your mind, and expect that other person to love you enough to stick through it, to support you, to go with you to ask for grace, and to remind you that nothing is bigger than Christ's payment on the Cross. I know this is hard. Outside of God's grace, it would not be likely--maybe even impossible. But that is just exactly the kind of bridge between believers that grace does build. One need not wear one's sin or despair on one's sleeve for all the world, but trusting a few with the whole truth is what our siblinghood is for. You were not meant to carry this alone. Nor was I. And a threefold cord (you, me, and the Holy Spirit) is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

5) Expect Christ’s response.
We are being conformed to the image of Christ. We are being given the mind of Christ. There is nothing at all, no sin, no fear that is beyond the scope of God’s power to take dominion over. This is the very work he has revealed to us that he is focused on: redeeming and renewing sinners. The God who has called us friends (John 15:14-15) will act as a friend. Friends may play very different roles in your life, but if a person is a friend, there is one thing you can always rely on: If you ask a friend for help, a friend will respond. If you ask a friend for presence, a friend will respond. The Holy Spirit will respond. (Philippians 4:19 God will fill your every need according to his glorious riches in Christ.) What did he say our greatest need was? Freedom from sin. He will respond to fill your greatest need.

How long does this process take? How long until you see progress? Honestly, it takes as long as it takes. This is your walk with him. For me, this five-step process of changing what I believe took about a year to show results in my thinking. But it’s not total victory either. It’s progress.

Going through this process many, many times a day for about a year. I think it is important to recognize this: Sanctification is a lifelong process, but that does not mean God is not responding. Sometimes it really takes a long time, a lot of perseverance, waiting, seeking—but not giving up—to be able to see the progress of redemption in our experience. God already knows the number of your days and he is the one who determines “when the days were accomplished.” He already sees you as you will be—in Christ, that is who you are. We are called to press on toward the goal (Philippians 3:14) and continue persevering in the training, like an athlete (1 Corinthians 9: 24-27). And he will be faithful to complete the work he has begun in you. (Philippians 1:6)