Archive for ‘spiritual depth’

2014/01/31

Deep waters

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New life can be found in deep water


“Drowning must be a terrible way to die, breath snatched as dark waters cover you, panic rising as you’re claimed by murky coldness.”–
From Confessions of a Big Girl  

When I think of murky cold water, I’m taken back to my childhood and images of the muddy Ohio River. I recall strains of “Shall we gather at the river…” sung loudly and fervently, a thick Kentucky accent wrapped around each note and phrase, as a group of earnest believers made their way to the banks of the river for the sacrament of baptism.

I remember the minister slowly entering the water up to above his waist, finding his footing before those who wanted to be baptized made their way to him. I don’t recall the liturgy in full. But I do remember the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” being said for each person. Then I watched how each one trusted the arms of the pastor, leaning back into that brown seemingly dirty water to profess their faith in Christ.

Water can be a very beautiful and safe thing.

Water sitting in a clear glass is a nourishing beverage. Healthy. Harmless.

An inch or two of standing water outside after a warm summer rain: that’s a puddle perfect for splashing in, running through. Fun. Whimsical.

A crystal blue pool with a deep end, or a community pool with a lifeguard; a pond on a farm or a lake with rippling water ready for water skiing: these places are where the water can get over your head if you don’t know how to swim.

And what about an ocean? You can’t drink the water there. That can be a problem. Especially if you need it, if you are lost at sea that deep water will not help you. In the ocean, the stakes are higher. It takes the proper equipment to survive the waves and the mysteries that swim there.

A few years ago I saw first hand the devastation that water can do when a flood damaged much of the bottom floor of our church and claimed the lives of two of our members. I wrote about that incident, and I learned to respect the power of water like never before.

Sin is like water. We think we can control it. When it is just sitting there in a glass, we know we’ve got it covered. We can swallow it whole, and it won’t be trouble. But what happens when the water gets too deep and murky?

I’m currently reading Dr. Naima Johnston-Bush’s book Confessions of a Big Girl: Reflections on Fat, Faith and Femininity. Even though I grew up a world away from the one Naima did, and we have very different stories of how we came to faith, the book is filled with connection points for any woman. There are few of us who haven’t struggled with body image, self-worth, and believing that God can really love and fulfill us so much.

In her chapter entitled “It Led to My Death,” Naima tells of a time in her life when even with caution signs, she decided to go her own way and before she knew it, it was too late to turn back.

Naima’s deep and dangerous water was the all-too-common destructive relationship with a man who said all of the right things and showed love and respect for a time, but who actually represented a dark and powerful undertow. As the relationship continued, she recognized he was robbing her true beauty and self respect, but it seemed there was no way out.

Fear and desperation led Naima to her dusty Bible for answers. And as her faith slowly strengthened, she began to fight the current. Bravely, she acknowledged the part she played in the real-life drama—how she willingly “held [her] breath and sank.”

Naima’s story could be my own. I have taken part in destructive and confusing relationships covered in sticky sweet layers of deception. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that I often did not have the discernment skills nor spiritual depth and wisdom to handle those relationships properly.

Looking back results in the classic phrase, “If I had known then, what I know now.” But I believe that sin has an ongoing purpose in our faith journeys. I’m honestly grateful that though forgiven and free, I can still feel a tinge of pain when I think of the times I succumbed to the deep waters of sin.

But as Naima reminds me, and all of us really, it is precisely those times that lead to a death that can save us. As she so skillfully states, “…dying to sin and self-loathing, I drowned and was buried only to rise again because the Lord called me from the depths of the waters to walk upon them and not drown beneath them.”

Sin can be like water. But as He does with so many things, God takes the water meant for our destruction, and He redeems it to give us new life in Him. Thanks be to God.

If you would like to read Confessions of a Big Girl: Reflections on Fat, Faith and Femininity by Dr. Naima Johnston-Bush, it is available now at www.amazon.com. As I am sharing a piece of her story with you, Naima has graciously offered that the first two people to leave a comment on my blog will be entered into a drawing to win a free copy of the book. For more information about Naima and her ministry, visit www.facebook.com/ministryofnaima.

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2012/07/31

Lean In

Recently while eating at a desserts-only gathering (a fabulous concept for a home party by the way), a new friend named Donna told the story about some puppies being born at her house when she was just a kid.  She remembered helping her mother feed the infant pups at what seemed like all hours of the day and night.  Because the litter was large, it took the whole family to feed the “newborns” when each mealtime rolled around.

After a few weeks, Donna’s family looked for good homes for the puppies and several were taken in. When the remaining group of puppies diminished to four, Donna said her family realized that one of the male puppies was blind.  They had not noticed this before.

His disability had been masked because his sister had been leading him around for weeks.  They watched as the pair of them padded around. The female stuck to her brother’s side, leaning into him to help guide his steps, doing all she could to keep him from running into anything.

I love the imagery that comes to mind as I think about those puppies and the way that sister leaned in to help her brother. As much as I like to think I embrace conflict and other tough situations, I know I have failed people in my life because I wouldn’t lean in. It’s not natural to lean into something when it’s really hard. On the whole we are taught to flee or fight (abandon or kill) whatever is making life bad.  It’s so much safer to create distance and boundaries, right?

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about hanging in there when someone is abusive or dangerous.  I’m also not talking about those times when we think that someone is blind based on the fact that they don’t see things the way we see them. This is often a hard thing to differentiate.

In the case of true destructive blindness, I know that I want to love the people around me through their hardest and heaviest moments, but that I find it really difficult to be like Jesus when someone I love is tearing life apart.  It’s not easy to love someone in that kind of state. It’s messy.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if leaning in was pure instinct? The New Testament shows us how good Jesus is at it. He really leaned in to tough situations, into broken, blind people.

I recently visited Thistle Farms here in Nashville. The company was born out of a desire to give work to women who after being rehabilitated from drugs or prostitution or other major problems couldn’t find work for obvious reasons. Who hires ex-convicts and recovering addicts? Thistle Farms does.

When you go on a tour at Thistle Farms, you get to hear at least one story from a recovering woman as you find out about the company. On my last visit one woman told her redemptive story that tragically started with sexual and drug abuse at the age of eight.  At the end of her talk, she said, “If I had just had one person who had intervened or taught me good things while I was growing up, maybe my story would have been different.”

She confessed that she did what she saw at home, and then she passed on that learning to her son—a son that was tragically shot and killed. Her words struck me. “Just one person…” If just one person had leaned in, maybe things could have been different.

After she got clean, that lady went back and rescued others from similar tragic stories. And now, she has a nonprofit that helps teens. She’s leaning in, and she’s doing it in some of the toughest of places in Nashville.

I’m nowhere near as brave as that woman at Thistle Farms, but I’m convicted of my need to lean in. I want to recognize situations where I like to take the easy way out of a relationship or a problem and dig in instead. May God help me to lean on him as I try to love like him.