Monthly Archives: March 2014

Retreats – A Highly Subjective Review (Part Four-Kill the Alter Ego and Other Stuff)

Standard

 

Ladies, who is that older Christian woman you admire?  You know the one.  The one who is a picture of grace. The one who has it all together, and not only is it all together, but it’s tied up in a neat little raffia bow with wildflowers in it, and pine cones hot-glued to the center!

The last message at the retreat was a heart question: What if God wants to use me just as I am?  Could I handle that, or do I need to fix God’s work?  Now, this does not mean that I/we don’t have sins and behaviors that need addressing.  What it means is, your alter-ego needs to die.  You know what I mean—that person you pretend to be when you are trying to impress people.  That person mentioned above who is usually a sweet older lady, and in your mind you believe she is perfect, and the most spiritual woman you know.  And so you try to be her and not you when you are around your Christian friends.

It’s completely futile and exhausting.  Stop it.

God gave you a personality, and He’s not necessarily going to change that just because you’re a Christian.  He changes your heart, and He changes your desires, but that doesn’t mean He will change your boldness, your passion for bikes, or your whatever.  Name the personality trait that you think is bothersome to people.  You don’t have to stop being bold, for example, just because you are a Christian now.  What if God put that quality in you so that He could use it for His purposes?  Will you allow Him?

This is a freeing message, and although I am pretty sure I have long ago murdered that phony on the inside of me, it is still a comforting message to hear, and a wonderful reminder that I don’t need to try and resurrect the alter ego.

 

There was a lot of other stuff I liked about this weekend:

One thing I really appreciated was that all women were invited.  Nursing moms with infants, relatives from other towns, and friends from other churches.

The schedule included plenty of free time, including time for shopping, which if you know where I live (small town with nothing but Walmart), you know how important that is.  And a great touch by one of the organizers–she had name tags made for everyone that were laminated, and they included the entire weekend schedule on the back.  These were on lanyards for us when we arrived.  And we got t-shirts and lots of other gifts and prizes!  What woman doesn’t like gifts?  We also had time for hiking, swimming, relaxing, and playing games as well.

But what was the absolute, hands-down, best thing about this retreat?

We had a chef.  Oh, my.  A chef.  Nobody who attended had to cook at any time.  Ever.  And wow, did they feed us like royalty.  If anyone went hungry, it was her own fault.

I hope I get to attend the next one!

 

–TLC

 

Advertisements

Retreats – A Highly Subjective Review (Part Three-Testimony Time)

Standard

Oh, my.  The testimony we heard on the second night was nothing short of ah-mazing!  No names are used and some details may be changed to protect true identity, and also because my memory is faulty.  You are reading the Extreme Reader’s Digest version, by the way.

What you are about to read is not so much a conversion story, but a life story filled with ups and downs, and ultimately a story that points to the faithfulness of God.

Picture this: A dynamic, sweet looking older woman walks up to the front of the room and tells you she is going to share her testimony.  What immediately goes through your head if you’re like me?  I’m thinking, “Her story is probably really boring, she probably returned a couple of library books late, and had a speeding ticket and then realized she needed Jesus.”

Isn’t that what we all do?  Judge people by who they are now, after God has grown them for many years.  While secretly on the inside, every one of us is saying, “If you only knew me then. If you only knew what I went through to get to this point.”

By the time this woman finished with her testimony, every woman in America could have identified with a part of her story.  Here goes:

As a young girl, her family went to church and had a normal life.  Her father dearly loved her and she always felt safe and secure with him, but he died young.  After he died, her mentally ill mother kicked her to the curb as a young teen.  Her mother didn’t even want her to live with friends, she wanted to see her on the streets suffering, and she never knew why.

She wasn’t able to finish high school, and in order to create distance from her mother, she moved to a new city where she thought a friend was living. She had no money, couldn’t locate the friend, and didn’t know what to do, so she asked her cab driver to take her to an inexpensive hotel.  Turns out this particular hotel was affordable because of the business that went on there in the night time.  She needed the money and so joined the ranks of the call girls at that hotel.  She feared she had hit the bottom, and she tried to commit suicide, but God wouldn’t let her go yet. Her recovery was lengthy.

After that, she got out of that lifestyle and married a nice man.  At least he seemed like a nice man.  Turns out he belonged to the Mob.  Yes, that Mob.

So, one failed marriage behind her, she set out for something new. She went to get a GED at the local college, and aced the test without even taking a class for it. The counselor told her she needed to go to college.

Somewhere along the way she met another seemingly nice man and they married.  She had her first beautiful baby girl, and all was right with the world.  She suddenly understood what unconditional love was about, as she adored this little baby girl.  She grew closer to God during this time, but her husband began to get abusive with her.

She stayed in the marriage and soon he had a debilitating event.  Suddenly he had become disabled and couldn’t work any longer.  He allowed his wife to go to college because she would now have to support the family.  She loved children and wanted to become a child therapist, and so completed her degree in that field.  It was always touch and go in the home, but her husband seemed to be mellowing because of his disability.  He had a reputation all over town as a mean man though.

One day she found out her brother had died and she desperately wanted to go back to her hometown for the funeral.  Her husband told her that her doctor forbade it because she was 8 months pregnant.  She defied him and went to say goodbye to her dear brother.  When she returned home she saw her doctor and he told her he never told her husband she shouldn’t go, but to the contrary he advised she should go.

The couple had their second beautiful daughter not long after that.  Another example of God’s faithfulness, she was a source of joy.

The years went on, long and hard.  Her mother fell ill, and she went to see her.  She got to talk with her and have the assurance that her mother had repented and was now trusting Christ for her salvation.  Her mother died not long after that.

Her husband continued to try to control her, but she was finally in a place where she was able to leave, and she did for a while.  He came to the realization that he needed to change, and he was changed by God as he trusted Christ as his savior. Everyone who knew him before noticed the night and day change in his life.

More years passed.  The mental illness that haunted her mother turned out to be hereditary, and she learned that her oldest daughter had it as well.  She did well on her medications, but didn’t like to take them. She died very young (in her 30’s) from a drug overdose as a result of the illness, and her husband died a few years later. But they were both reconciled to God.

The moral to this story?  Life is hard.  Being a Christian doesn’t make it any easier; bad things still happen.  But God is faithful to the end.

This woman’s testimony (and I know I’ve left out a lot of it, my memory is not what it used to be) produced such fruit!  She was so brave for sharing, and it affected everyone in the room.  We witnessed TRUE broken and contrite hearts, REAL confession and heartfelt prayer.  We strengthened relationships, renewed trust in the Lord to heal us rather than our trying to do it ourselves. So many tears were shed, but none of us would have traded that evening for anything.

 

TLC

Retreats – A Highly Subjective Review (Part Two-Idol Busting)

Standard

Yesterday I was raving about the retreat I attended over the past weekend, and I want to continue that today.

We had a speaker who talked to us about the things in our life that hurt.  I’m talking real hurt here.  Things like sexual abuse, assault, neglect, divorce, and such.  When these things happen, we have guilt, pain, and other emotions we need to resolve.  And we have anger we hold onto over these things—anger that causes us to realize we want to murder.  What does it mean to surrender something like this to God?  And what if I don’t want to?

Sometimes a person begins to allow their pain to define them, and that’s not healthy.  When you realize you have been holding onto your pain because it’s the only thing that comforts you, it’s the first step to letting it go. Right now you’re saying to yourself, “What are you talking about—pain that comforts me?”

You have allowed your pain to comfort you when you create scenarios in your mind that run like movies, and in these movies you exact your revenge.  And it feels good.  When you are unwilling to give up running these revenge movies in your head because they give you an emotional release, you know you’ve made an idol in your heart.

Who is our Comforter?  Who says, “Revenge is mine?”

You know you’ve made your movie into an idol because God wants first position in your heart, and instead you have given your heart to the feeling you get when you run your movie in your head.  It feels good to get revenge.  But a clear conscience feels better.

So, how do we give this up when we’ve been hurt so deeply?

I’m going to tell you what our speaker told us, and I’m also going to confess that I’m not much of a ‘visualization’ person.  I just don’t go for that kind of stuff, because usually when people are talking about visualization they are trying to create something in their minds and they think they can actually create something real, something tangible (like getting a new car), just by thinking about it.  And that’s stupid, and that’s not what I’m talking about here, just so we’re clear.

Remember, this is not a therapy exercise, but an act of faith!!  Here’s what you do:  Picture your hurt.  Make it look like whatever it looks like in your mind – someone’s face, a house, whatever.  But picture it, and then place it in your hands.  Now take your hands and lift them up to God, and place your hurt at the foot of the cross of Christ.  Give it up to Him.  Pray and tell Him you are letting Him deal with it from now on. Now let Him handle it.  Easier said than done, right?

Do this as many times as necessary.  Each time you start playing that movie, make it stop and turn it over to Christ.  A thousand times a day if you have to until that movie becomes boring and stops trying to invade your privacy.

It may sound simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  And now you’ve got a new weapon in your arsenal to bust those idols!

–TLC

Retreats – A Highly Subjective Review (Part One)

Standard

I think I may have just attended the best women’s retreat ever, but I don’t have anything to compare it to so you’ll have to decide for yourself.  I need to rave about it though.  You see, I have always been highly suspect of women’s retreats and how much makeup and nail polish may or may not be involved in said women’s retreats.

Therefore, the following review segments will be a description of what I really enjoyed about our weekend, and will not include a comparison to any other retreat.  I do, however, reserve the right to compare it to known stereotypes if I so desire.  I have already realized that this review will be far too long for one blog post, so here comes the first of…I don’t know.

First off, I really appreciated both the style and content of the teaching, along with the complete absence of pricey fill-in-the-blank style workbooks.  I dearly appreciated being treated like an adult who can bring a Bible and a notebook, and take notes on the things that strike me as important, forming my own opinions on the heart work God may be doing on the inside.  Of me.

Message number one dealt with the Christian’s propensity to easily become a works-driven people, and especially the Christian woman’s particular bent toward this. It was a wonderful reminder that God doesn’t need us. For anything.  If I completely fail at every appointed task in my lifetime, God would still be God.  That takes a lot of pressure off, doesn’t it?

Performance-based Christianity is a dangerous bird.  We act as though God doesn’t see inside our dark, dark heart.  Like He only sees the show we put on for others.  Like we can fool Him.  The speaker put it this way:

“We attempt to impress God with our performance while
we are shielding our hearts from Him at the same time.”

It’s unfortunate, because there is a better way.  God wants to give me His grace, He doesn’t want my best.  He doesn’t want me to clean myself up and present myself all pretty and clean, doing good deeds in order to make myself acceptable to Him.  God does not need my sacrifice.  He wants my heart. Even the ugly, dirty, angry parts of my heart.  David knew there was nothing he could do (sacrifice) in order to appease God after what he’d done:

 

“O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

(Psalm 51:15-17 ESV)

 

There is another danger—if I move from being self-righteous right on over to the other ditch and become self-loathing, I have completely missed the point. Satan wins, because either way I am self-centered.  What happens when I instead surrender myself and those sins (idols) that I hold onto so tightly?  I can finally focus on Christ!  I can allow Him to be my Advocate!

The only real gift I can give to God is my sinful heart.  I surrender it to God at the cross and he accepts that dark, black rock that I have been holding onto like it was a treasure, and He turns it into something that can be seen in the light.

More to come.

–TLC