Preparation K

As in preparation Kelly. What did you think I meant?

Anywho, it seems God is teaching me about three different things right now in an effort to “prepare” me for something terrifying and difficult that is coming down the pike. I don’t know what that something is, per se, I just sense that it is coming.

So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

God is using the gym to school me in all three areas: stepping into fear, resisting equating my performance with my value as a human being, and disciplining myself to do the work when I don’t particularly feel like it.

These are some big lessons He is teaching me in this little safe, controlled environment called the gym. I feel like He is giving me a space to practice these behaviors because I’m going to need them to be second nature where He is taking me.

It has occurred to me many times in the past that my ministry role models have all gone through their own personal versions of growing in these three areas.

They have all struggled with fear in the past, learned how to handle it, and gone on to teach others how to deal with it in healthy ways. They’ve written books on the subject and shared their stories from the stage. Learning how to interact with fear is a common thread for the most successful people I know.

These people also clearly know who they are and why they are valuable and that their writing a best-selling book or speaking to 10,000 people in no way means they are any more valuable than the next person. Conversely, they know their ill-worded tweet that lands them on the social media crap list doesn’t mean their value has diminished either. They don’t tie their identities to their performances.

And they are all very self-disciplined people. It shows up in their ministries, their teaching, and the everydayness of their lives (for example, every single one exercises religiously). They run giant ministries while writing in-depth Bible studies and books simultaneously while speaking all over the world 40 times every year. Oh, and they are parents and spouses and children who strive to keep their families a priority over their ministries. None of this happens without incredible self-discipline.

So here I am, learning all these same lessons on a much smaller scale, trying not to get too caught up in what the future may hold, but curious nonetheless.

I graduate seminary, the reason for my total neglect of writing on this blog, in December. And I have no plan after that. As in, none.

Some find that nonsensical. Some find that stupid. Some find that odd. I find it to be just another day in the life of being one of God’s kids.

He doesn’t tell us the whole plan. He tells us what the current step is. And that’s usually about it. Seminary and gym lessons are my current steps. So I am focusing on being a diligent student in both classrooms so I don’t miss the spiritual and character development He is attempting to create in me.

And, by His grace, I’ll be prepared for what’s waiting for me in 2018…

Our Father

I spent last week here:

 

Our Father
Panama City Beach, FL

Yeah, I’m rubbing it in.

But more to the point, my husband and I went to the beach with 130+ high schoolers from our church for a retreat. As retreats tend to go, we had a great time connecting with the Lord outside of our normal daily routines.

The most impactful part for me occurred the third night. During the message, the speaker, Greg Speck, invited students to accept Christ, to rededicate themselves to living for the Lord if they felt they had wandered off the beaten path, or to commit to continue pursuing Him fervently.

This is a pretty standard part of retreats, so I was not surprised by the invitation. But, almost as a side note, the speaker took an unexpected detour and began talking to the kids whose fathers have left them.

Understand, we are a predominantly white church located in an upper-middle class suburb. In other words, we have a higher rate of dads in the home than other sections of Memphis.

But for whatever reason, the speaker, an experienced communicator with teenagers and a man with four grown children of his own, felt the need to address abandoned kids. I found this a little odd given our demographic.

He explained that when he leaves, in the dad’s spot is a hole in his kids’ hearts only Jesus can fill. Counselors who knew this to be true looked at one another with tears in their eyes.

Then the speaker said something like this to the students, “If it’s been a long time since you’ve had a fatherly hug, or if you just need someone to speak some fatherly truth to you about who you are in Jesus, I’d be glad to do that at the end of the message.”

More tears.

I had only known most these kids about 3 days and already 3 popped into my mind whose dads had either left them or passed away. But what happened after the message blew me away.

Student after student lined up to wait for a dad hug. 

Students from affluent suburbs. Students who more than likely knew their dad at one time. Students who now come from broken homes because the divorce rate knows no economic nor spiritual boundaries. But also students whose dads are physically present in their homes but completely checked out emotionally.

The line stretched down the aisle as teenagers – people who are highly sensitive to what their friends might think about them – cast aside their egos out of their desperate emotional need for a connection with a father figure.

More tears.

The following evening – the last evening with the speaker – kids walked up to say goodbye and thank you to him. Others, still starved for father attention, humbly requested one more father hug.

The best part?

The speaker was not playing the hero to these students; he was pointing them to the only One who can permanently rescue them from their pain – their Heavenly Father. 

I watched this fallen, kind-hearted, imperfect man offer all he could – a hug and some words – and it was a beautiful example to these students of what God’s fatherly love looks like.  With his words and actions, the speaker not only modeled God’s love, but he purposefully pointed these kids to their true Father as the ultimate, perfect Source of fatherly love.

And you know what?

The speaker’s humble offering was enough. It was enough to give the students a glimpse of the One who can fill their hearts eternally and perfectly. It was enough to crack the shell that some of these abandoned students had around their hearts. It was enough to encourage some of them to open their hearts to God for the first time or once again after months or years of having turned away from Him.

And my hope in sharing this story is that it will be enough for you, too. You whose dad has died. You whose dad left before you were born. You whose dad left when you were a kid. You whose dad stayed physically but abandoned you emotionally. You whose dad is not enough. And, when we get down to it, that’s all of us.

Max Lucado tweeted this week, “We never outgrow our need for a father’s love. We were wired to receive it.”

Scripture says we believers are children of God (John 1:12). He is our Father, our perfect, never-failing, more-than-enough Dad of dads. 

Amen.

 

True Security

I don’t know if it’s a female thing or a human thing, but I seem to spend a lot of time and energy working toward one thing: feeling secure.

Safe.

Stable.

Accepted.

We can find security in a lot of different places… how much money is in our bank accounts… a significant other to come home to every night… “atta boys” from our bosses… compliments on our children… nods of approval from our parents…

But if that’s all? If those are our only sources of security and significance, we’re setting ourselves up for a guaranteed fall. 

Because that money can be gone the second your car dies or your child needs surgery.

And that significant other can decide you aren’t so significant to them, and they can walk out the door.

And that boss can be unimpressed with your latest project and decide to let you go.

And our children can embarrass us with their choices we didn’t raise them to make.

And our parents can disagree with the paths we take and shake their heads side to side instead of up and down.

These sources of security – they’re all tenuous. Even the most reliable sources can and will let us down because people weren’t made to shoulder the identity of another.

No, there is only One who can handle that responsibility and handle it well all. the. time.

God made us.

In line with the creation story, God made Kelly Marie Vreeland on April 1, 1983, and He saw that it was very good.

If it weren’t, He wouldn’t have done it. God only does good things.

I am His intentional good work, knit together in my mother’s womb, and so are you. 

And if He says we are good, what greater source of security could we have?

God created good things – us – but very early on – from childhood, the scriptures say – every inclination of our hearts was evil (Genesis 8:21).

Ah.

So that’s what happened. That’s why we all feel so not good. Sin overtook that which was good and all but ruined us. But God loved us too much to leave us at that. We needed a rescuer, so He came Himself to redeem us from the Fall – our fall into pure evil.

When Christ died on the cross, He looked me and you in the eye and said, “It is finished.”

His sacrificing Himself for us was done. His pouring out His life to redeem us from every evil inclination that rules our hearts was complete.

Through Christ’s death and resurrection, God offered up complete redemption on a silver platter to each one of us. It was finished. There was nothing else He could do but wait.

He waits to see who will take Him.

He waited a good long while for me. And He’s still waiting for some of you.

But when I chose Him – when I agreed that I needed Him and only He would do – I became God’s daughter.

And the best part is there is no undoing that (John 10:28-29).

Anyone who accepts their need for redemption and acknowledges only Jesus is capable of such a feat becomes God’s child. Forever.

That is security.

There is nothing more sure, more certain.

He meant what He did on the cross, and if He had to do it again, He would because His love for us never changes. He is the perfect Father, delighting in us, wanting only the best for us, leading us, protecting us, and there is no more prominent a position, no securer a place, than being a child of God. 

Take heart, we are His.

We are HIS.

We are His!

All I’ve Ever Wanted

I drank the verses slowly, letting them swirl around in my heart like the velvet coffee in my mouth.

I was warmed by both.

“Remain in me,” Jesus said, “and I will remain in you,” (John 15:4).

It took only moments for me to realize that’s all I’ve ever wanted… from anyone.

A promise to be there.

To Remain.

To Abide.

Not to depart.

To hold me… keep me… continually.

This chronic need for security, it can be met in Him…

…and only Him.

“If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing,” Jesus continued. “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers…” (John 15:5-6).

All I've Ever Wanted
image via franky242/freedigitalphotos.net

I have known the withering.

And I have born fruit when I’ve lingered long in the Lord’s love.

But the fruit is not what I’m after, if I’m honest.

The fruit is temporary. Each piece transforms from a seed into its ripened form… then it’s let go… the ministry, the student, the child – all are but momentary evidences of the Lord’s working through us. But they aren’t meant to stay. They’re meant to go and produce more fruit.

No, I am not after fruit.

I’m after the Vine.

I aim to remain in Him so that He will remain in me. I want Him to stay. No matter what it takes or what it costs me, I. Need. Him. Without Him, I can do nothing.

There’s only One person who can be needed this much and not fail us.

There’s only One person who can deliver on the promise to remain with us always.

There’s only One person who can be the object of this degree of neediness in a healthy way.

There’s only One person who can hold us… and keep us… continually.

And that One person? He wants us to do the same for Him.

Jesus wants us to remain in Him… not because He needs us… just because He loves us.

He wants us, whom He loves, to love Him… to abide in Him… not to depart from Him… but to hold Him… to keep Him… continually…

And that’s all I’ve ever wanted.

How Could I Not?

I don’t really fear Satan. I believe in God’s power over him and don’t worry that Satan will somehow usurp God’s good plan for me. Satan can only do what God allows him to do (Job 1,2), and I have confidence God will use Satan’s schemes for my greater good and His greater glory (Jeremiah 29:11).

Where I struggle is with the fear that God is powerless to save me from myself. Obviously, God is all-powerful. But when we factor in human free will, I get a little nervous. Because I know myself. I know my tendency to run away from God instead of toward Him. I know my resistance to pain and suffering and all things undesirable – the very mediums God tends to use to accomplish spiritual growth in us…

In light of all these facts, I worry that I might have the ability to choose to resist God. I fear I possess the capability to utterly ruin whatever good plans He may have for me by being disobedient and uncooperative. He isn’t going to force me to do anything I don’t want to do. That’s scary. Because sometimes I need to be forced. I know myself; left to my own devices, I won’t always choose to do the best things. Sometimes I need God to make me.

I was talking to the Lord about all this the other night. And at one point I just asked Him, “Do You get exasperated with me?”

I was thinking along the lines of human parents who get exasperated with their children for asking the same questions a hundred times or for stubbornly refusing to obey certain rules. We get exasperated…

Since God is our Father and we believers are his children, does He experience similar feelings of exasperation with us when we act childishly or foolishly? Or does the whole parent/child analogy break down there? The Bible does say the Lord doesn’t grow tired or weary (Isaiah 40:28)… even of me and my ridculousness?

I continued to think about my children. At the end of the day, when they’ve fallen asleep, I take a few minutes to go in and look at them. I pray over them. But, mostly, I just look at them – their little features, their cute positions, their innocence – it all overwhelms me. It fills me. And I inevitably feel inexplicably blessed that they are mine.

How Could I Not?

Whatever feelings of exasperation toward them I had throughout the day, all those feelings disappear when I watch my children sleep.

That got me thinking about God watching me sleep. Does He have to fight the urge to reach through the heavens and stroke my hair or kiss my forehead? Is His heart overwhelmed with love? Is He speechless that I am His? I think it’s a safe bet He probably is (Jeremiah 31:3, Isaiah 43:1).

After pondering that image and those questions, I was reminded of a David Crowder lyric in which he says to God, “Thank You for loving me.” And because I was feeling thankful, I said those exact words to God, “Thank You for loving me.”

And without missing a beat, He smiled and said, “How could I not?”

God. Of the universe. Said that to me.

I fought the urge to count the ways to Him that He could not, and I chose, instead, to accept His fatherly gift.

After all, what was God really saying?

He didn’t mean He loves everything about me. I’m certain He’s not real fond of the countless ways I find to sin, for example.

He meant there is something special about our relationship – Parent/child – that endears His heart to mine no matter what I do or don’t do. Just like me with my kids. When they’re sleeping, and I can hardly breathe for their beauty, no matter how many times I felt exasperated with them that day, I can’t come up with any possible reason I wouldn’t love them.

They are mine – I love them – how could I not?

I need this reminder of God’s heart toward me often. Daily. And I figure I’m not alone.

If you’re needing a reminder, too, I recommend Isaiah 43, in which God says to the Israelites, and subsequently, to Christ-followers, “I have called you by name; you are mine…  you are precious and honored in my sight… I love you,” (Isaiah 43:1, 4).

Loving Well

It’s hard to be a good writer without also being honest. And being honest is tricky because sharing my life necessarily means sharing others’ lives, at least where their lives intersect with mine, and others don’t always want to be as open as I am willing to be.

So, out of respect for them, I sometimes speak in the theoretical or the hypothetical. Just know there is always more beyond the generalizations I make. Personal experience isn’t far.

That being said, we “all” know “someone” who doesn’t love us well. If we’re lucky, we only know a couple of folks who are too self-absorbed and/or too broken themselves to realize what a gem we are.

image via Boykung at freedigitalphotos.net
image via Boykung at freedigitalphotos.net

I say this not because I have soaring self-confidence (I don’t). I speak highly of me and of you solely because God speaks highly of us. He says things like, “You are precious and honored in my sight and…I love you,” (Isaiah 43:4). He calls us his “dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1). He created us with painstaking detail, he knows everything about us, and he has great plans for us (Psalm 139:13, Matthew 10:30, Jeremiah 29:11).

For reasons unbeknownst to me, we are valuable to God.

This fact, when appropriately internalized, is enough. It’s enough to make me feel secure and complete and whole.

But sometimes the positive feelings that come from knowing God loves me get crowded out by the negative feelings that come from suspecting someone else doesn’t love me.

This happened the other day. A person who shall remain nameless hurt me deeply. I talked myself through the biblical truths above, trying to heal my heart with scripture. It didn’t work instantly, like I’d wanted it to. So I talked through my hurt with God. I basically lamented that this person wasn’t willing to do whatever it takes to love me, even though I think this person ought to be willing. If the roles were reversed, I’d be willing…

And you know what God showed me?

First, He said, “Kelly, I did whatever it took to love you. I literally gave up my life for you. There’s nothing I wasn’t willing to do – no discomfort or pain or suffering I wouldn’t endure – to get to you.” God’s words sunk in deep, and I just let them hold my heart for awhile. They were a timely reminder that we are all looking for that kind of love, and the one place we will consistently find it is in the person of Jesus.

Then I sat down to write this post, and God kept talking. I typed that sentence above that reads, “If the roles were reversed, I’d be willing…” and the Holy Spirit convicted me quicker than an apt metaphor about something that is fast.

God let me know, “The roles don’t have to be reversed; the roles are the same. That person ought to be willing to do whatever it takes to love you well, and you ought to be willing to do whatever it takes to love that person well.” Except God used that person’s name because there is no keeping things private from God.

The truth is I don’t want to do whatever it takes to love that person well because it takes being uncomfortable and sorting through my issues and learning how to turn the other cheek and learning how to see the best in people and all sorts of things that HURT.

But then I remember that I am precious and honored in His sight, and He loves me, and He has great plans for me, and part of those plans is learning how to love others well, no matter how they respond. 

How to Forgive Anyone for Anything

(Yikes. Hope this article can really live up to that title…)

(It’s ok, it’s not the words in this post that inspired that title. Scripture inspired that title. So I can go that big with that claim.)

(I probably shouldn’t start a post with a dialogue between me and myself.)

(It’s ok, my readers have come to expect some crazy.)

Now that I have my attention…

As a parent of more than one child, I spend a lot of my time settling sibling disputes. I try to teach the offending child to recognize her wrongdoing, apologize for it, and ask for forgiveness. I try to teach the offended sister to accept the apology by verbally extending forgiveness.

Image courtesy of adamr/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of adamr/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

And it goes over about as well as it sounds like it would. Through gritted teeth, they obey me because they have to, not because their hearts feel much empathy.

As an adult in her 4th decade, I don’t do much better handling my own conflicts. A lot of people struggle with forgiving those who have hurt them. We genuinely want to forgive, but we don’t know how to get there. We don’t want to say we forgive and try to force our hearts to feel forgiving because we all know that doesn’t work. We can’t will ourselves to a place of forgiveness.

Yet, we’re commanded to forgive all over the place in the Bible. One example is Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

A lot of times we really want to do this… and we feel guilty when we don’t do this. And we feel angry that we seemingly can’t do this. (I can’t help but think this is all part of Satan’s plan (2 Corinthians 2:10-11).)

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, what do we do?

I got to thinking, what if we’re focusing on the wrong thing? What if mustering up forgiveness isn’t really the place we should start if we want to succeed at forgiving someone?

I know it’s a strange thought, but we’ve already proven time and time again that psyching ourselves up to give our best shot at forgiving rarely (never?) works.

So what if we try something different?

If we read the verses surrounding Colossians 3:13 (namely, verse 12), we get some clues as to how we can improve our chances of forgiving as the Lord forgave us.

Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

This verse – immediately preceding the verse commanding us to forgive all people for all things – says (at least) two important things we need to know and do before we will be ready to forgive well.

1. Recognize Whose we are. Every believer is purposefully hand-picked by God, set apart for Him, and cherished by Him. Maybe instead of jumping prematurely to trying to will ourselves to forgive, we ought to meditate on these three truths about ourselves. When we internalize the implications of our identity in Christ, two things happen: the offense committed against us doesn’t seem quite so important, and our hearts, overcome with humility, start to soften toward the offender, who is really just like us – a sinner in need of a Savior. Forgiveness isn’t going to happen inside the cold, hard hearts of people whose self-worth is wrapped up in what others think of them. So let’s start here and get our heads right.

2. Get dressed. Before we can forgive, we are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. This is a lot easier to do after we’ve spent some time reflecting on Whose we are. These characteristics seem to start flowing out of us when we are secure and in tune with our Father’s love for us. But trying to forgive without these things going on in our hearts is, as we’ve all experienced, impossible.

After we’ve “completed” verse 12, verse 13 actually becomes attainable! Feeling enveloped in His love, walking in love toward others, we are enabled to, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you,” (Colossians 3:13).

If I can be so bold, we can forgive anybody anything (which is how the Lord forgave us) when we follow these two verses IN ORDER. 

Dare to try it with me?