Tuesday, October 25, 2011

No Regrets Part Two: Naked Writing

Part two is about baring my soul.  Being vulnerable.  Naked writing. 

Back to Billy and Shanna's couch:

As I sat there pondering the verses I had read, I started asking myself some questions.  Perhaps this strategy came from the speakers at Desperation Conference, as they taught the kids how to read their Bibles and pray.  Maybe I just needed a new plan that morning.  Here is what I asked myself:

Who is God in this story?
Who is Satan?
Who am I?

I am not usually a formula reader.  I agree with Donald Miller and many others on that point.  Relationship with God can't be broken down into three action points that translate into great blessing.  The Bible does give life and instruction.  But I do not feel we should attempt to allegorize the entire thing to fit our circumstances. 

But those questions were on my heart that morning, so I sought answers.  They came instantly. 

God was represented by David in the story.  Satan was the evil, cruel, lawless Mallies.  Who was I?  I was the plunder.  Carried off to be enslaved, tortured, used, and humiliated, a possession for sport. 

Off the couch for a little backstory...

I gave my heart to Jesus when I was nine.  At Calvary Tabernacle on Orange Ave in Roanoke, Virginia, where my mom and dad got married.  Every Sunday we would sing Just As I Am  at the close of service, during the alter call.  One Sunday I walked to the front all by myself.  I can still remember how long the aisle seemed that morning, stretching from a few feet into a mile before I finally reached the front. My Sunday School teacher met me there and prayed with me.  My parents cried.  And that was it, I was officially a Christ follower. 

But I didn't always follow.  I made some poor decisions during high school.  Got involved in a bad relationship.  I walked away from God in shame, then returned.  Other times I walked away in rebellion- I wanted to do whatever felt good at the time.  "Walking away" can take many forms- dismissing the teachings of one's youth, building walls of protection, outright sin, apathy, the list is endless.  But Satan has opportunity to plunder when we walk away...we are his for the stealing, as defenseless as David's wives in Ziklag.  He chips away at our souls.  We might feel carefree and euphoric at first, but then we are plunged into numbness.  Hopeless and unsatisfied.  Sadly, I have walked away quite a few times since I was nine.  There has been ample opportunity for Satan to plunder.

What do most of us do with our dumb and painful mistakes of the past?  We usually ignore them for as long as possible.  Then we regret.  Every person alive has at least one BIG regret they can bring to mind instantly, right?  Do you have any regrets when you look back at your past?  What"s the BIG one? Think about it for a minute please.  I am sure it is glaring at you now that you've given it a little attention.  It's okay to let it sit there in the front of your mind, we'll come back to visit REGRET in a little while.

Back to the couch:

As I said in part 1, verses 18-20 gripped my heart.  What did they mean in the context of my own life story? 

I could say a lot here, but instead I am going to copy straight from my journal entry that morning.  Here I go getting naked.  I'll admit I'm nervous...this is vulnerable stuff.  I wonder if you'll reject my words?  My journal entry is messy, real, and intense.  I ask you to hear my heart.  Here goes:

     "What is God saying to me?

     He came, and found Satan had destroyed/burned my life, and taken me off captive.  He came searching for me, to RESCUE me back...to bring me home to Him because I am precious beyond measure to Him.  God has fought for me unceasingly...two days for David has been years for me.  God actually did this on the cross, through Christ, 2000 years ago.  For me.  But he never stopped pursuing, never stopped fighting for me.  Last night He got me back completely...all the broken pieces of me.

     -What about my great regrets from my captivity and Satan's destruction in my life?  What is God saying to me about that? 
"18 David recovered everything the Amalekites had taken, including his two wives. 19 Nothing was missing: young or old, boy or girl, plunder or anything else they had taken. David brought everything back. 20 He took all the flocks and herds, and his men drove them ahead of the other livestock, saying, “This is David’s plunder.”

     God recovered EVERYTHING- every part of me.  God recovered His Beloved, and nothing was missing-  there is no part of me Jesus didn't recover. No part of me was left with Satan or his destruction.  He recovered my heart, my innocence, my dreams, my hopes, my past, my wasted years- He recovered it all.  Again- nothing is missing from me. Satan did not utterly destroy me.  God has me back whole, intact."
End journal entry.

I had cried at Desperation the night before, without really knowing the details of why.  On the couch that morning I wept with understanding and gratitude.  I felt deep peace I've never known in my life.  I honestly couldn't even remember my regrets.  It was as if God had taken a gigantic fuzzy cloth to the dry erase board of my life and smudged out all the ugly parts. With Christ's blood. I really did feel whole.  I still feel whole.  Intact.  My future is as wide and bright and full of possibilities as when I was twelve. 

I spoke about that morning at our Mother Daughter Day for Girltime this summer.  I am not an eloquent public speaker yet, but the moms were gracious to me.  They were the first people to hear the words from my journal.   After I shared, I asked each of the moms to write down their biggest regret(s) on a small slip of paper. Then we folded up the papers, took them outside and dropped them in a metal bucket.  We prayed over them.  They gave their regrets to God.  Then we lit the papers on fire, burning them to ashes.  I saw freedom in the eyes of some of the moms that day after their regrets were dust in the bottom of the bucket.  It was incredible. 

So is your regret still clear in your mind?  Bring it back if it wandered into the recesses.  I want to ask you to be brave.  Give it to God- fully and completely give it to Him.  Close your eyes and picture your regret on a piece of paper resting in your hands.  Then hold your hands out to God.  Give it to Him.  Get your past and your future back.  Then imagine that paper burning into ashes.  Smell the smoke.  Be free. 

If you aren't ready to do that, it's okay.  But ponder it please.  And hey- if you want to write your regret down and burn it with real fire, I say go for it.  It's very freeing. 

It is very late and I am all out of words.  Thank you for listening and allowing me the freedom to share the deep stuff of my heart.  I am so thankful tonight for no more regrets. I am praying the same for you.

Peace dear readers. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

No regrets.

This blog post has been on my brain for months now.  It is always better to write when ideas are fresh in your brain, but sometimes a shift occurs in your heart and mind so vital and substantial you can't share it for a while.  You need to process it, feel it, live it.  Run your fingers through it to make sure it's real. 

This post is going to have to be broken into two parts, as it will be too long otherwise.  So, here is part one...The Story:

I was sitting on Billy and Shanna's couch at 6am on the final morning of Desperation Conference, June 25, praying and reading my Bible.  All the kids in the youth group were still sprawled out in sleeping bags and tents all over the Ramsdell's basement and backyard, and Billy and Shanna were getting much needed rest also.  But Shelley Gambrell and I had gotten up early, feeling the need to spend some time with God. God had been doing stuff in my heart during the two days of the conference.  But to be honest, I wasn't sure what exactly.  I knew it was something big, I could FEEL that, but I couldn't figure it out.  I needed answers.  So I was on the couch, and she was outside on the back porch.  Both of us with our Bibles and with God.

I honestly had no idea where to read in my Bible, so I did the classic: closed my eyes, prayed for God to let the Bible open to wherever He wanted me to read, and opened it.  Yes, I know, very spiritual of me.  Ha. It opened to I Samuel, Chapter 30. Worked for me, I adore the Old Testament.  I know many people find it boring, but I love the history and poetry of it. 

The story of chapter 30 is one of plunder, pain, anger, bad decisions, prayer, incomprehensible strength, and redemption.  David, not yet KING David, had been out with his men, 600 soldiers, preparing to fight at Aphek.  The backstory here is complicated, but please go read all of I Samuel if you want more specific details. David had taken all of his men to fight at Aphek, a town about 40 miles up the coast from his homebase of Ziklag.  Bad decision- he left no men to guard the town, literally every single man was off fighting.  Perhaps David didn't discern the situation well to perceive the danger, or maybe it was just a bad call.  But it was the opportunity the Amalekites were looking for- they wanted plunder and revenge for David's past assaults on them.  Let's call them "The Mallies", as it is more fun to say, and typing the word Amalekites repeatedly is just tedious. 

The Mallies swept in like pirates.  They plundered.  But they didn't kill, as there were no men in town to put up a fight.  So they carried off the women and children, cattle, spoils, all of it.  Then they burned Ziklag to the ground.  The women and children were to become their slaves.

When David and his men returned, they found their town in ashes and their families gone.  It says in the Bible David and his men wept bitterly.  Then the men got angry, needing someone to blame for their great grief.  David had hauled them all off to fight, leaving their families defenseless against the pirates, so they grabbed stones as one and screamed for David's life.  These were not David's close friends or countrymen, and he was afraid.  Verse 6 says:

    "David was now in great danger because all his men were very bitter about losing their sons and daughters, and they began to talk of stoning him. But David found strength in the Lord his God."

"Bitter" is a stronger word than grief, isn't it?  Bitter says, I am distraught and need someone to be responsible.  David was suffering with his own responsibility in the situation, as well as deep grief- his two wives were taken too.  But David sought out God and found comfort and strength. Then he asked the Lord the big question- "What do we do now?"

David sought the priest, who brought the ephod...I am not going to be able to explain that procedure well, so you are free to do your own research. Point is,  David inquired of the Lord.  Here's how the conversation went:

    "8 and David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?”
   “Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.”

Ok...marching orders.  David took his 600 exhausted, bitter men and immediately set out to pursue the Mallies.  They made it as far as the Besor Ravine.  At that point, two hundred of his men were too exhausted to go on.  So David commanded them to stay and rest, and also to look after the supplies.  Then he pressed on with his 400 remaining men. 

They found a dying Egyptian slave in a field, and they shared food and water with him.  He had been with the raiding party, but had become sick.  So in typical, cruel Mallie fashion, he was left to die in the field because he was slowing them down.  In a commentary I read this morning, the writer says that the Mallies' inhumanity led to their destruction.  So true- God values each life more than our callous throw-away society can comprehend. 

The slave knew where the raiders were, and agreed to lead David and his men there if they promised to spare his life and NOT return him to his master.  Smart guy. 

They found the Mallies, spread out over the countryside, feasting, partying, and reveling in the vast plunder they had amassed.  Referring again to the commentary I read this morning, the writer says the Mallies had stolen so much cattle it was necessary for the raiders to spread out across vast areas of space just to accommodate for the needs of the herds. 

David and his men immediately went into action.  This part reminds me of the battle at Minis Tirith, near the end of The Return of the King- King Theoden speaking to his pitifully small assembly of men, encouraging them to fight valiantly, as a tear rolls down Eowyn's cheek, knowing death is eminent for them all.  However, David and his men had a promise from God- they would overtake and rescue.  Still, I think there had to be some fear in their hearts as they faced off against the Mallies, exhausted of all emotional and physical strength. 

But they fought.  And fought.  Verse seventeen says David and his men fought from twilight to the next evening.  Twenty four hours of fighting?  Apparently so.  Surely the men needed some frosted mini-wheats by the end.  However, they were victorious.  In fact, the numbers are astounding- only 400 Mallies escaped, on camelback.  (Now I am picturing Bob Hope and Bing Crosby going across the desert singing, "Off on the road to Morocco".  Maybe I need more coffee.)

But did you catch that?  David and his 400 men killed all the Mallies except for the four hundred that escaped by camel.  Talk about some odds.  It doesn't even say how many they killed during battle. 

Now here is the beautiful part, the part that captured my soul as I read it that morning:

Verses 18-20
"David recovered everything the Amalekites had taken, including his two wives. 19 Nothing was missing: young or old, boy or girl, plunder or anything else they had taken. David brought everything back. 20 He took all the flocks and herds, and his men drove them ahead of the other livestock, saying, “This is David’s plunder.”

Wow.  I just got chills.  There is more to the story- returning to the men left behind at the ravine, David's wisdom in solving disputes and instituting a nationwide policy concerning the division of spoils of war- but I am going to stop here.

That is The Story.  Part one done.  Part two coming...The Epiphany. 

*A big official thank you to my friend and fellow blogger, Donny Pauling, for answering a historical question I had this morning with pages of Biblical commentary which were immensely helpful in writing this blog post.  Appreciate it!

Stay tuned for part two dear readers. :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An afternoon at the movies...

This weekend Ron and I saw an independent film at The Mayan in downtown Denver.  If you know much about me, you know I love movies...in theaters.  And I adore unique theaters.  The Muvico Parisian at CityPlace in West Palm Beach won the award for most luxurious, there were fresco paintings on the domed ceilings and faux alabaster fixtures in the bathrooms.  Even the Swedish Fish tasted gourmet there. 

The Elvis Cinemas are my all time favorite, as they are cheap and fun...perfect for this frugal mamma.  Sadly, they do not play old Elvis movies 24/7.  A friend recently pointed out that would be a great business model though- I agree. :)  They are a bargain movie chain here in the Denver area, playing second-run films for CHEAP.  We are always up for a flick at the Elvis.

But the Mayan wins hands down as the coolest historic theater.  It is one of the oldest restored theaters in the country, built in 1930.  In fact, it is only one of three remaining theaters designed in the Art Deco Mayan Revival theme still standing and in operation today.  It reminds me of Grandin Theater in Roanoke, which reminds me of childhood, and home.

Ron and I saw The Machine Gun Preacher there, and it was excellent.  In case you haven't heard of it, the movie is based on the life story of Sam Childers, who went from hardened criminal drug dealer to finding Jesus and saving orphans in Africa.  The film is made well, and had some big names in it- Gerard Butler playing Sam Childers and also being an executive producer on the film, as well as Michelle Monaghan, Kathy Baker and Michael Shannon.  It is tough and harsh, deserving its R rating for a lot of reasons.  But it has so much heart.

It shows how beautiful, messy and vital life becomes...WE become...when God breaks in.  He changes everything if we let Him.  He gives purpose. Isn't that deep within all our souls, to find our true calling? 

I still want to change the world.  But I get side-tracked daily with the meaningless and materialistic.  This movie...true story...reminded me of what's important- we will only find our lives when we give them away in true sacrifice to others in need. 

Short blog for today. Go look up the ratings reviews for this movie if you are concerned about the R rating.  Then, if you feel comfortable, go see it.  Be open to where YOU might be called to change the world.  Sam Childers is still saving orphans in Africa. 

And if you are in the Denver area, go see it at The Mayan.  :)

Peace dear readers. 

Side note- Michael Shannon's upcoming movie, Take Shelter, looks incredible too.  Here I go, planning out more movie afternoons...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Busted flat in Baton Rouge...

An old friend of mine posted that line as his facebook status a couple of years ago and I commented a question mark back at him.  The line honestly did not ring a bell in my mind- I thought my friend had somehow really gotten stuck in Louisiana. Or maybe there was some greater philosophical meaning in the status update.  Nope- maybe Val was just being dumb. Yes, I know...the horror...the unrelenting horror of not instantly recognizing the lyrics to one of the greatest songs of all time! 

Haha.  There is my shame, dear readers, for all the world to know.  But in case that lyrical line's not registering for you either, it is from the song Me and Bobby McGee, written by Kris Kristofferson and made famous by the late Janis Joplin.  I personally believe Mr Kristofferson was a much better songwriter than actor, but that is a discussion for another day. There is a very famous line in the song I want to focus on:

"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose..."

(You are all singing it in your heads right now aren't you?) 

That line has honestly never really made sense to me.  When I think of freedom, I think of God Bless America, The Star Spangled Banner, our flag, liberty...you know...FREEDOM.  I suppose I have a very American view of freedom.  I've had hurt, junk, and issues in my life, so freedom also means forgiveness, healing, restoration and a new start. And I ache for freedom for the victims of child sex trafficking all over the world.  The word freedom has always been a positive thing in my mind. Sacrificial, yes.  But hopeful, a cry, a mantra. 

But in the song, freedom is not really positive is it?  It is what one has when there are no responsibilities, and nothing to truly care about losing.  

Our family pastor, Billy, has been speaking to the youth group about our identities lately.  A few Wednesday nights ago, he spoke about "Davids".  Davids we know in real life, and the David in the Bible.  You know, the Shepherd, Goliath killer, leader and King.  I won't go into all the details here, but David was a man who learned from an early age who he was.  He was born with an identity and he embraced it, rising to great power and honor.  He was very responsible throughout his formative years.

But all that changed one gorgeous Spring.  He sent a trusted leader out with his army...armies apparently went out every Spring to fight, cause that's what they did....Hooah!  David stayed at the palace.  We can assume he was just hanging out, basking in being the most powerful man in the known universe, not really doing much.  He had given away his responsibility to others, so his hands and mind were idle. 

Then he took a late night stroll on his roof and we all know the rest.  There's another song about that, Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, but we better not discuss that one here.   

Billy said something very important here and suddenly the line from Me and Bobby McGee made sense, and a whole lot else too:

David forgot who he was...he forgot his identity as Shepherd, Slayer of Giants, Leader, King, Man after God's own heart...and he swapped his responsibility for FREEDOM. 

See- Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.  But David had plenty to lose.  Boy did that situation get ugly quick!  The king had a man murdered, a brave soldier and faithful husband, just to try to cover up his moral failure when it was known Bathsheba was pregnant with his child. We could get picky here and say David was the king and could have any woman he wanted.  Yes, he could. It was called Royal Rape, he got it whether the girl wanted to give it or not.  But David wasn't like that.  He knew right from wrong, regardless of what power his position gave to him.

David forgot his identity.  He forgot who he was.  Have you ever done that, in any area of your life?  I have.

There are about a million reasons why we might forget who we are...stress, discontent, temptation, an easy way out, ambition, pride, desperation, a short-cut to what we might truly desire in our lives...we could list causes endlessly here.  Sometimes we are still searching for our identity- we all have seasons of searching in our lives, yes? Those times usually lead to great personal growth and renewed purpose, becoming who we were born to be.

We all fall.  If the man God actually called a "man after His own heart" could fall so hard, we all can. A lot of destruction and death resides in that story.  But God didn't give up on David.  And David didn't give up on himself either.  He did eventually remember his identity and live it once again. 

I have been sitting here for about twenty minutes now trying to conjure a witty ending to tie into the song and title of this blog post.  I don't really have anything.  Just two thoughts:
-Find your identity.
-Live your identity, even when it's hard and hurts. 

Oh, and another...Onnie rocks out that song like nobody's business when she sings it. 
There- a song tie-in.  :)

Be who you are meant to be.  Peace dear readers.