Grateful For My Anxiety

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It’s funny how one day I can be in a state of near- full surrender, of kingdom-mindedness, of eternal focus, and the next day I can be a tightly wound ball of anxiety with my eyes fixated on the temporal and my thoughts magnifying what isn’t going my way.

I’m working on a collection of short meditations on anxiety right now. They are the things I say to myself and to others - and the things I think God says to us - when we are rolling in the muck of it. But as I write these down, as I contemplate the anxiety monster, I find myself incredibly grateful.

The knot in my stomach, the tsunami of thoughts, the tightness in my chest, the trembling limbs - they light up the cockpit of my life and remind me, painfully, to get out of the pilot’s seat.

In this way, the anxiety is a gift. For me it is a clear heads up to get my head up.

It still sucks. I don’t love it. At its best it is mildly aggravating, 
at its worst it is soul crushing. It’s a monster we won’t be bothered with on the other side of eternity.

But I’m grateful for the way it has taught me to shift focus.

For how it teaches me surrender.

For how it won’t let me be the pilot - how as soon as I take control of the cockpit it wakes up and sounds every alarm.

I don’t love it, but I’m grateful.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest in me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9

*This little book of meditations, lamentations, and prayers is going to print in July. When you preorder through Kickstarter, shipping is on me. CLICK HERE TO VISIT MY KICKSTARTER PAGE

 

He Spoke And The Universe Appeared: Let Me Introduce You To My Good, Good, God.

Photo by   Rakicevic Nenad   from   Pexels

He spoke and the universe appeared. Full stop. He spoke. He said a word.

And everything in this natural world appeared. Everything you’ve ever seen, felt, heard is here because He simply spoke it into existence.

Imagine speaking and watching as what you spoke appeared. Imagine willing something into existence. It is almost unfathomable to me.

Yet, almost daily, I find myself telling my God - my God who spoke a word and saw the universe appear - I find myself telling Him how something should be done, where He should interfere, where He should move.

Me.

Telling Him.

It’s ludicrous.

But the best part of the whole thing is this -

God doesn’t squash me or punish me or wave me off with a “How dare you!”

He tucks me under His arm and whispers “I got this,” and He reminds me who He is and what He can do and He lifts my chin and pulls my shoulders back and he calls me “daughter.”

He loves me.

Let me introduce you to my uncontrollable,

unshakeable,

unrelenting,

undeniable God.

He is good.

He is mine.

I am His.

I Do What I Want

I do what I want www.stevieswift.com

Years ago, I took a last minute trip to Iraq. It was two weeks away from my two year-old and it was traveling to a country perceived as dangerous, which made the trip selfish in the eyes of some.

In hindsight, it is easy to see God’s hand in the entire process, but in the middle, as I prepared to leave, I worried whether I was doing the right thing and acting with the right motives. 

I wanted to go.  I wanted it badly. 

I wanted to travel back to the country I last saw as a soldier. I wanted to be a part of something positive there.  I wanted to meet the people under different circumstances. I also wanted adventure.  I wanted to get on an airplane and do something exciting. I wanted to do this thing – go to this place.

I told a friend what I was feeling, how I was scared this was a selfish act, a selfish decision. He responded, “How many people do you know who ‘want’ to do this?”  

And something clicked for me.  A big something.

A life-giving, freedom-giving something.

Wanting to do a thing, wanting to be a thing, wanting to go to a place – these do not poison an action.  They are a part of every poisonous action, which is why I was confused, but wanting is not the poison.

If I am walking with God, abiding in Him, listening to the Holy Spirit – if I am ready and willing to stop when He says to stop, to go when He says to go, to stay when He says to stay – I don’t need to be afraid of my own desires.

If I am seeing Him for who He is, if I am daily giving my life to Him, I don’t need to stress, to strive, to stumble over every decision.  

For six years, I have been doing more and more of what I want to do. Mostly, I avoid doing things because I think I should. Mostly, I avoid doing things because other people think I should.  

I do what makes sense based on my circumstances, my strengths, my weaknesses. I walk closely with my God, so that my desires align with Him and I do the things I want to do.  

I am a servant, but I am a servant to a freedom-giving God. I’m not a slave to my own expectations, nor a slave to the expectations of others. I’m not a slave to God’s expectations either – I could never meet them, they’ve already been met for me, and there is new grace and mercy for me every single day. 

And for you, too.

You are free. Are you living free?

My Unfinished Painting & My Unfinished Faith Race

How This Half-Done Painting Reminded Me To Keep My Eyes On The Race

This is the background of a painting I’m working on. It’s meant to be a background, a foundation, a first layer. I started this piece with unbridled excitement. It’s experimental, it’s a leap, it’s not like anything I’ve done before, and I couldn’t wait to see it finished. 

But something happened over the last couple of days, as I waited for it to be ready for the next layer. I became fond of the background. I became comfortable with it. I started to wonder if I couldn’t, maybe, just leave it the way it is.

It has a simple complexity to it. It reminds me of both the ocean and the sky depending on when I look at it. 

I like it the way it is.

Instead of excitement over the finished project, today I felt fear over losing what I have now. Even though it was ready for the next step – I left it as is.

But tonight, I turned my eyes back to the plan, back to the reason I began this painting. I started to dream again. I started to envision the next layers, to get excited about the original vision. Tomorrow, I'll start work on the next layer. 
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I have purpose in this life. A race. A mission. 

But sometimes I stop and I survey and I see how far I’ve come and I become fond of this place, this season. 

I become comfortable. 

Comfortable with my community, comfortable with my family, comfortable with my routines, comfortable with my habits. I forget the race. I forget the mission. I let fear freeze me. 

I take my eyes off of eternity and dwell on the temporal. And when my focus is here and now, the excitement is drowned in fear.

I have to turn my eyes back to the plan. I have to dream again, to envision the next layers of the journey, to get excited about the mission.

The difference between the painting and my walk with God is this painting could end up total garbage. I could hate it. I could regret the moment I turned my eyes back to the plan.

But I won’t regret turning my eyes back to eternity. I won’t regret adding layer upon layer of surrender. I won’t regret any loss or failure or pain associated with the mission. I don’t know how the finished product will look, but I know it will be a masterpiece.

As for the painting, we’ll see.

How To Face Today When You Sucked Yesterday

Yesterday was awful. Today is New.

The alarm rings and I let it. Over and over again, I let the blaring wash over me.  Yesterday’s failures play through my mind like a trailer for a horror film.  Most days I blow something – lose patience, put my foot in my mouth, turn negative or cynical – something slips and I’m reminded how short I fall of perfection.  

Yesterday though – yesterday was a train wreck.  Every struggle seemed to rise up with the sole purpose of crushing me.  I failed in so many ways and so many times.

The alarm stops, putting itself on snooze, and I know I have five minutes until it starts again.  I try to push back the darkness, but I’m too worn.  My thoughts turn against me, rewinding and repeating my mistakes, the commentary becomes vicious.

The alarm sounds again.  This time I push the snooze, putting an end to the blaring outside noise, but the blaring within only intensifies.  

I will myself to think of nothing, to let the exhaustion cover me like a blanket, to fall back for another five minutes of rest, of quiet.

It seems like seconds before the alarm is going off again and my stomach clenches up tight, faced with just how much I suck at this life thing. What if today isn’t better?  What if it’s better for me to just stay here, under these covers, hiding?   

God, Help. It’s the closest thing to a prayer I can muster.

He agrees.  I do suck.  I hurt people, say the wrong things, waste inordinate amounts of time and energy and talent.  I want things my way, and I always, always, always want to be right.  There is truth in the lie.  But the rest?  The conclusion?  The "I should stay under the covers and sulk" bull?  Pure fiction.

Sometimes I don’t suck.  Sometimes I lean right into him - right into love and sacrifice and humility and selflessness. 

AND.

Every time, I woke up for a reason. Every time, there is purpose in my breathing lungs and beating heart.

AND EVERY TIME His grace is new, and EVERY TIME His mercy is all I need. Whether yesterday was an apex day or a stuck in the muck day, I get fresh mercy today.

Thank God. 

Lord, Make Me Beautiful

God made us to desire beauty, to desire being around it, to desire being it, but maybe we are confused about what beauty means.

 Father, make me beautiful.

This has been my one of my prayers for a few years now.. And I will keep praying it. I want to be beautiful.  I think we all do.

We were made to be beautiful, attractive - a light to the world - and something inside of us knows this and craves it.

But something distorts our perception of beauty.  We label and sort and pick and choose and select some humans to be beautiful and some to be ugly.  Our labels and our sorting are like revolving doors, never stopping, and those who try to keep up only run in circles.  

As a race, us humans can't seem to land on which things are "beautiful" and which are not. Is my butt supposed to be flat or round?  Strong nose, or straight, or thin? Big eyes or small?  Don't get me started on eyebrows.

Us human people - we desire beauty, but our standard for what fits the definition is ever-changing.  

Why?

I think it's because the thing we want - that elusive thing - it is not something we can define in human terms.

I think it's because beauty is something far more mysterious and holy than smooth skin and long eye lashes.  Beauty is God in us. It is light in us.  It is love in us. Beauty grows, it doesn't fade.

I bet you know someone who avoids smiling in pictures because smiling brings out the little lines around her eyes.  Someone who hides something beautiful - a smile, a laugh - in an attempt to be more "beautiful."

How often do we cover up beauty while trying to be "beautiful?"

It's maddening.

The striving, the spending, the comparing - futile.  It is all part of an empty game we are destined to lose.  It's a waste of our dang time.

I will get old.  I will get saggy.  Soon enough, no amount of money will be able to transform this body into something "beautiful."

But I don't have to play this game.

Why chase "beauty" when I can have beauty?  And so I pray.  I don't know what beauty is exactly, but I know it is good, I know it is God's thing, and I know He can give it.  I have tried to land on a definition, but I can't find it.  Maybe you have a definition, but honestly, I think your definition will fall short. I think beauty is a Kingdom thing, something we can't quite understand. Not yet, anyway.

So I pray, "Make me beautiful."

We'll see how He answers. 

(Photo Credit: My Mom :)  And I chose this picture, despite it's terrible quality, because it shows me in glasses - which is when I feel the least "beautiful," AND simultaneously shows me in the place on earth I love the most, with some of my favorite people, happy as a dang clam.)

Dear Struggling Single Mama

Dear Struggling Single Mama

It is one of my favorite things about God - how, when he tells us to do something, it is for us, it is for OUR benefit, it is for OUR good.  He's not sitting in heaven watching for someone to follow the rules and then pulling a string to drop blessings on the one who is obedient - the rules ARE the blessing.  His commands, the things he asks us to obey, are for US.  He doesn't tell us to forgive so a burden will be lifted from someone else - he commands us to forgive so a burden will be lifted from US.  He doesn't tell us to be careful with our words simply to avoid hurting other people - he tells us to be careful because the words we use affect US.

And when he tells us to love others - when he says this is the second greatest commandment - it is not only for the people we love, it is for US.

This is what I don't want you to miss, single mom who likely has more than her share of burdens, I don't want you to miss this step. LOVE OTHERS.  It is too easy to get lost in the muck - in all of those unfair and impossible things.

In two sermons and on one radio show this week, I heard speakers talking about "reaching out" to single moms or "helping" single moms.  Don't hear me wrong because I think this is fantastic.  Many among us could use a hand - we could use a little love sent our way.  But those messages are given to encourage the hearer to reach out to others AND THOSE MESSAGES ARE FOR US TOO. It is not a message to single moms to wait for someone to help them, or to get angry because no one is complying.  Even if we are on the list - that list the preacher gives of people who could maybe use a little help, a little love - we are still called to reach out.

And this call is for OUR good.

Because if you are focused on your own muck, it will drown you.  We have to look out - away from ourselves.  We have to turn our attention from our muck to the muck of others.  God gave you gifts - talents and skills - and He has a purpose for your life, for every day you live.  He wired you to find fulfillment in reaching out to others, in offering your talents and skills for their sake.

Freedom is there in the reaching out.  Growth is there.  Healing is there.

Reach out.

Where The Spirit Of The Lord Is

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The Spirit is in us, the same spirit that rose the dead to life and healed the near dead and multiplied food by the thousands.
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It is in us, moving and speaking and guiding and praying.
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A piece of eternity, a connection between us in the world and the whole of the Kingdom.
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Because we are no longer of the world, we are merely in it. Not immune to the pain and suffering the world offers - just sure of what we hope for, certain the story ends well, invested heavily in the Kingdom, and free from the weight of the world’s chains.
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Where the Sprit is, there is freedom. It lives in you - live free.

How To Find Your Way Back To God

Finding God when you’ve drifted far from Him

I grew up without much of an introduction to God.  I’d heard of Him, of course, but I didn’t know Him.  Then I found Him, or He found me, and we were tight, because “tight” is something I said a lot in those days.

And then I fell away – it’s a longish story for another time, with lots of twists and turns, lots of striving, lots of pain. 

I was lost again.

I found my way back in an instant.  Literally, it was instantaneous – I walked into a church, my old church, the church where I was baptized.  I was there for a funeral but the very second I walked in, it happened.  I remembered.

I remembered God loved me. I remembered it was an all the time – forever - no matter what - kind of love.  I remembered I didn’t have to go back up the winding path I slid down.  I didn’t have to go back through every twist, every turn.  I didn’t have to strive.

I only needed to turn toward Him.  

And as I walked through those doors to celebrate the finished life of an old friend, I also welcomed new life in my own heart.  The weight of the past six years slipped off of me and onto Him and He carried it away as if it was nothing. 

I was found again.  

Later, as I reflected on how simple it was to be found, an image/vision/whatever you’d like to call it came to me.

I was sitting in a car - lost, so far away, years and distance and mistakes and regrets away from my God.  And in my earthly way of thinking, I was sitting in this car staring ahead, wanting to return, but unsure of the way back.  

A stack of maps showing where I’d been sat beside me and I’d pull them out, one by one, trying, striving to see the way home.

And then I walked into the church building and in that moment the maps were pushed out of the way and I saw something.  It was there the whole time, a part of this car since the beginning, stitched within me in my mother’s womb.  

It was a GPS of sorts. A red escape button.  Instead of maps to follow back through the way I came, it mapped out the closest way home. And because God is outside the bounds of earth distance and earth time, because the twists and turns and slides I took did not take me any farther from His reach, because the throne of God is not protected by moats and gates and high walls – not even, anymore, by a veil – I was instantly transported.

When I pushed the red button, I was instantly in the throne room, instantly with My God, instantly where I belong, instantly home.

I wrote a song about this. About how God is just a whisper away. I’ll share it eventually I’m sure.

He is just a whisper away, a red button away, from you too.  You don’t need to search maps or strive or make your way back through the twists and turns and slides.  He is just a whisper away.

Whisper to Him.

On Unclenching And Letting Go And Surrendering

Giving anything and everything to God. Who else is in?

I read this book years ago and it kind of wrecked me.  It suggested praying a prayer - a prayer offering ANYTHING to God.  Offering it all up to Him, whatever He wants to take, whatever He wants to use, anything.

And isn't this what life following Christ is supposed to look like anyway?  Jesus didn't go around telling everyone to go to church on Sundays, and talk to God sometimes when it suits you.   He didn't say 'make sure you give exactly ten percent' and 'only listen to Christian music.'  He said FOLLOW me.  He said to love Him more than anything, more than your children, more than your parents, more than your friends.

To the man who wanted to follow Him, the man who had just lost his father, the man who wanted to say goodbye - to bury his father - first, Jesus said 'let the dead bury their own.'  He said anyone who turns to look back is not fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Wow.

Jesus basically said everything in this life - the STUFF I cling to - it's worthless.  My comfort?  Irrelevant. My need to control every little stinking thing? A distraction.  The Kingdom is so many times more important than this tiny little sliver of eternity we call our lives. 

After reading this book, (Anything, by Jennie Allen), I started to let go.  I started unclenching my fists to drop the crap I was holding and free my hands to accept whatever God has for me.

It is HARD, but I'm doing it - this abiding, this letting go, this unclenching.

I may not have it all on the table today, but if it takes the rest of my life I will pray and struggle through the prying open of my clenched fists until they are completely empty.  Until I have offered everything.

I know it will be worth it.

The world has yet to see what God will do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully consecrated to Him. - Henry Varley (the words that inspired D.L. Moody to live surrendered)

Waiting For Ai

Passing By The Thing You Want And Trusting God Has Something Better

When Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land and they were defeating the cities in the area - clearing out the neighborhood so that Israel wouldn't be corrupted by the inhabitants - they first went to Jericho. God specifically told them not to take ANYTHING from Jericho.   They were supposed to burn the whole place down and take nothing for themselves.

One man didn't listen.  He took silver and gold and a cloak, and Israel paid for his mistake. When they went against the next city, Ai, they were ran off and they lost 36 of their men.  When the sneaky man with the loot from Jericho was found out, his family paid - the whole family and everything that belonged to the man was destroyed.  Harsh.

Once he was gone, God led them to defeat Ai.

And then something weird happened.  God told them that they could take the livestock and the spoil of the city as plunder.

They were forbidden from taking from Jericho, but invited to take from Ai.

A bible scholar, or a historian, or maybe even someone who paid more attention while reading the story might be able to tell you what the difference was between the two cities.  They might understand why taking from Jericho was dangerous and taking from Ai was okay.

But really, it doesn't matter for me right now.  I needed to see this story in a new light.  I needed to see how sometimes God asks you to give something up - to pass by silver and gold and fancy clothes.  Sometimes He says "Give that up" or "Pass that by" or "Let that go" with no explanation - no promise of something specific He would give in return.  He doesn't say "Destroy everything in Jericho, I'll let you take what you want from Ai,"  He just says, "Destroy everything in Jericho."

Mrs. Bible scholar/Historian/Person who pays more attention might correct me, but I'm thinking the plunder from Ai was even better.  I bet that if they had known what they were about to receive, passing by Jericho would have been a breeze.   But they didn't know.  What they did know is this: God was taking pretty good care of them.  These are the people who ate manna in the desert and quail when they whined about the boring manna, they saw Joshua part the Jordan, they had JUST seen the walls of Jericho fall because they walked around it and made some noise.  They knew God is awesome.  They knew God can do anything.  But that one guy just could not trust that God had something better, so he slipped some trinkets and a jacket into his coat.

I just passed by something.  I lingered beside it knowing God was saying no.  I attempted a negotiation - "I won't take the whole thing God, how about this little piece of gold, maybe the silver, and how about this coat - I'll never find another one like this - maybe just the coat Lord?"  But I had my marching orders - don't take anything.

So I didn't.

And that's pretty scary.  But I have my own stories of manna and quail and parting waters and thick walls falling.  He is trustworthy.  All of the time.  And if He says to leave the coat and Jewels in Jericho, I'm leaving them.

I'm leaving them, and I'm waiting for Ai.

How To Know If You Did The Right Thing

How To Know If You Did The Right Thing

I saved a boy from drowning once.  Well, I helped.  And then I regretted it. 

I was seven, maybe eight.  It was a campground pool, and it was my cousin’s birthday. The memory is a weird one, one of those trauma-seared memories, with certain parts vivid, like a movie replaying in my mind, and other parts missing entirely.

I remember jumping into the pool, I remember my older cousin – the one with the birthday – jumping in too, I remember swimming toward the center of the pool to meet him, I remember giggling, I remember him asking if I’d seen his friend Jared* because he’d come out of the locker room before him, I remember a strange feeling in my stomach, I remember us looking at each other and then, together, looking down.

I remember seeing Jared kind of standing at the bottom of the pool, lifeless.  He had on goggles, which later seemed so strange – he knew we were going swimming, he brought trunks and goggles, he left the locker room early and jumped into the deep end of the pool.  He did these things knowing he couldn’t swim.  

My cousin and I dove down immediately, grabbing his arms and pulling.  I was a strong swimmer, but Jared was a few years older, a lot bigger, and total dead weight.  I came up for air once, then dove back down to help my cousin bring him up.  

I don’t remember yelling for help, but one of us must have.  And I don’t remember where she came from – if she was there the whole time, or if she came in response to our screams – but there was a nurse.

I remember CPR and puking and an ambulance and the ICU and then a boy who lived. And I remember I helped.  

I was proud of the moment.  I retold the story many times over two and a half decades.  I saved a life, helped anyway.  I was just a little kid, but I got to be a part of a big thing.  I did a good thing, I thought.  I did the right thing, I thought.

BUT

Last year I found out Jared is in jail and won’t ever get out.  He grew up to do something so heinous I won’t describe it here. 

Did I still do a good thing?  Did I still do the right thing?

I know the answer to this.  It’s the same as when I reflect on my time in Iraq, and it’s the same as my response when naysayers ask what that homeless guy is going to do with my money.

I don’t know. 

I don’t know the end result of every action I take.  I don’t know if the good thing I do today will result in a bad thing ten years from now, and I don’t know if that bad thing will somehow turn into some amazing and miraculous thing 100 years from now.  

I don’t know. But I know the one who does.  

It is not my job to label things as “good” or “right,” and thank God because I have no idea. My job is to follow closely, to abide, to learn His voice, and to listen like my legacy depends on it.  My life is not about amassing a collection of “good” and “right” things to earn salvation – it is simply about following the one who already earned it for me. 

I'm Done Burying My Talents

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I cringe every time I hear the parable of the talents.

Something weird happens in my stomach.

My face is all crinkly right now just thinking about it.

I'm the servant who buried the money.  I badly want to be the one who invested and multiplied the master's cash, but I'm not.  I took his talent, held it tightly in my fists, put my tail between my legs, and sprinted off to find a good hiding spot.

God gave me a great talent for rationalization (still waiting to see how that can be put to good Kingdom use).  I can convince myself - and probably you - that the very best thing to do right now is to put this coin deep in the dirt, where no harm will come to it, where it will be waiting for the master when He returns.  But the real reason for the digging and the hiding and the burying is FEAR.  Same as the guy in the parable.  He was afraid.  I am afraid.  He is me. I am him.

I have written since I was about six years old - I started with poems.  And I kept writing.  Poems, stories, songs.  A lot of them I keep - tucked away in a drawer or in a box or in a file (I recently ran across a floppy disc with writings from my junior high years - those may be lost forever - it's probably for the best).

I have twice now reached over 20,000 words trying to write the same novel, and twice I have let it dry up.

I made a blog, wrote on it for an entire year, and shared it only with my mom.

I have been afraid for a very long time.  But I'm doing life a little differently now.  I'm getting my hands dirty, I'm digging up talents and starting to invest.  It is scary.  And also a little exciting.  I kind of want to do it more.

Burying is easy and investing is hard.

Burying is the coward's way out.  Burying is not humble.  Burying is selfish.

Burying is listening to the evil little voice who wants to shut me up.  Investing is telling that voice to shut it.

But people don't want to hear what you have to say . . .

You're totally right, billions of people won't want to read what I write.  This is why I don't plan on tying the abstainers to chairs and clothes pinning their eyes open until they absorb my words.

But you really aren't that great of a writer . . .

So what?  Moses sucked at public speaking and Gideon only had 300 men.

Everything I have belongs to God.  This includes my words.  He gets the final say on what I write, where I write, and who sees those words - not me.  It is not humility to hide them in a drawer, it is pride.

On Robin Hood & Freedom In Christ

Finding Freedom In Christ While Still Living In The World

I just finished watching Robin Hood, the three season BBC series, and I am genuinely, pathetically depressed there are no more episodes for me to indulge in.  

Over thinker that I am, I over-thought this today.  Why did I love the story so much?  Why was I so sad to see it end?  Why did I identify so deeply with a story set hundreds of years ago  and why did I (seriously, I know how pathetic this sounds) feel like an actual part of myself was missing when it ended?

I think it's because this is our story.  A kingdom wracked with injustice.  Starving people hanged for stealing bread.  Slave labor in deadly mines.  Livelihoods destroyed over failure to pay an unfair tax. War. Drought. Famine.  And amidst the injustice, character is revealed.

There are those who rebel openly and fight against it - Robin Hood and his men.  There are those who rebel secretly and fight injustice from the inside - Marian.  There are the young and the sick and the elderly who can do nothing - who are at the mercy of the cruel if there is no savior to step in and fight for them.  There are those who have money and title, but who do nothing.  They fear the consequences of helping the poor.  Or they rationalize - helping will not solve anything - sticking their own neck would be foolish.  They stick their heads in the sand.  They protect only themselves.

And there are the villains - the ones who want more and more and more.  More money.  More power - at any cost.  The Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John and Sir Guy.

We have those characters.  Here in the 21st century we have heroes and rebels and villains.  We have weak and powerless people being crushed by greed and neglect.  We have heads buried deep in the sand.  We have gobs of injustice.

It is our story.  It has always been our story.  It is the result of sin.  It is why Jesus came - to bind up the brokenhearted, to set prisoners free from darkness.  To set us free.  To set everyone free.

We are free.  Right now, we are free

In the series, Robin Hood lost his land and title because he refused to oversee an unjust hanging.  He ran to Sherwood Forrest, no longer an Earl but an outlaw.  In a run-in with a group of outlaws in the forrest, one of them said something that stuck with me -"We are dead men."  They had lost their homes, families, a place in their country, a reason to live - they were simply surviving as men already dead.  Robin challenged them to stop living as dead men.  He gave them a purpose, something to fight for, something to fight against - something to live for.  And later, when he was handing himself over to the Sheriff to protect an innocent woman- when his men said that doing so meant certain death- he said, "at least I will not die a dead man."

He was living free.  Daily willing to lay his life down to protect the innocent.  Entirely devoted to combating the injustices in front of him - never letting an opportunity to right a wrong pass him.  Stripped of everything that his society valued - labeled an outlaw - walking with a price on his head.  But in a way, more free than he could have ever been sitting in his manor, observing the injustices outside his window, and doing nothing.

For 36 episodes, I felt free too.  Living vicariously through a fictional character, I felt lighter, as though my own chains were no longer holding me.  Chains of practicality, of pleasing others, of meeting expectations, of meeting properly set goals and following carefully laid plans.  Chains of achieving, of seeking wealth, of designing a comfortable and contented life.  For 36 episodes, I was with Robin - living as a nomad in the forrest with one set of clothes - eating whatever small animal my friend managed to catch and cook over a fire - facing death every day - stripped of the life I cling to and welcomed into a life of purpose.  A life devoid of so much that I value, but so full of the freedom I crave.

Isn't that what Jesus does?  He strips us of the life we cling to - if we let Him.  He welcomes us into a life of purpose - if we let Him.  I wish I could be like Robin Hood - letting go of the old life easily and bounding into the new one with endless passion and energy and faith.  But I am not like him.  Jesus strips and I cling.  He welcomes and I balk.

And sometimes, I sit in my pj's and lose myself in someone else's story instead of getting dressed and living my own.

I'm setting a new goal - to live free.  I'm laying out a new plan - screw my plans and follow Jesus.  I'll let you know how it goes.

*I wrote this piece about 4 years ago. I am grinning wide as I re-read the end because living free is still the goal, etched deep on my heart though I'd completely forgotten what started the initial spark.  I have spent the years since writing this moving closer, stumbling lots, toward a stripped down life, which I will write some about - eventually.*

Want To Save The World? Let It Shine.

You Don’t Shovel Darkness Out Of A Room. You Turn On A Light.

Earlier this week I heard a radio preacher say you can't shovel darkness out of a room - you have to turn on a light.  That's all he said on the matter, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

It's so obvious.  I don't shuffle like a zombie into the bathroom in the morning and try to beat the darkness into submission.  I don't plead with it to go away.  I don't scream at it when it won't comply.  I don't throw my pretty candles at it or drag my soapbox in to persuade it to depart.

I turn on the freaking light.

This world is dark.  God is light.

We see the darkness and the brokenness and the emptiness.  We see pain and hunger and despair and death and we want to FIGHT it. Beat it into submission.  We want to convince everyone to join together to eradicate the dark.

The world has more than enough resources to sustain its human population.  Yet a child just died of starvation.  And another one.  And another.  Every four seconds.  A real human child died because he was deprived of what my dumpster is full with.

Insert a million other problems - darkness problems - brokenness problems - relationship problems.

I want to fix them.  I want to get out my soapbox.  I want to find money to throw at them.  I want to shame everyone, myself included, into spending themselves for this cause or that cause.

And I am exhausted before I even get started.

Because I'm trying to fight the darkness with a shovel instead of just being a light.

How cool is it that God says we get to be a light?   The biggest problem this world has is darkness and we get to be a light - we're basically superheroes. Basically.

We stay plugged into the source and we light this place up.  That's it.  It might be exhausting sometimes but I won't be depleted. I'm connected to the source of everlasting light.

Maybe being a light means picking up a shovel sometimes, or standing on a soapbox, or spending myself - time, money, energy - but those things aren't the weapon any more than a battery-less flashlight is a weapon against darkness.

We hold the greatest weapon, and I'm gonna let it shine.