I don’t know if you are all familiar with Christine Caine. She is the leader of A21, a global organization for preventing human trafficking. I have been listening to her for a few years now. I find her honest and inspiring, but most of all challenging. Her podcasts are great! This one in a series called 3 C’s: Change, Collaboration and Courage sure seems like its going to be a good one. How do you deal with change? What’s God been pruning in your life lately?
Lot’s of things can rattle a girl’s cage. I’ve been rattled so much lately it seems I might need to be taken off the field for one of those concussion protocols that the NFL players go through after a blow to the head. The kind that can leave you dazed and confused and wondering which side of the field your bench is on. The doctors say it takes a long time to recover from all that rattling. I might be sidelined.
Anxiety from the build up of worries and fears can shake me until I feel like a rag doll. When the unexpected hits like a bullet train, I get flattened out. I beg for an out of body experience so I can get some relief. I want to see heaven like all those stories you hear about in books and movies. I’ve been begging for that lately.
Life rattles my cage like a relentless predator looking for a meal. We all call it stress. That everyday word that gets thrown around like a hot potato. I hold it, feel the warmth in my hand but soon it turns into a burn. So I quickly toss it right back at whatever I think is causing the pain. I can even start shaking my own cage in hopes of drowning out the relentless rattling. But no matter how I respond, inside me it is wrecking havoc to my mind, body, and soul.
I heard Dr. Henry Cloud speak at Catalyst, a conference for Pastors. He shared this study about stress.
One of my favorite studies was done years ago with monkeys, measuring the effects of relationships on cortisol levels in the brain. (Cortisol is a hormone associated with high levels of stress.) In this particular experiment, a monkey was put in a cage and exposed to a high level of psychological stress, including loud noises and flashing lights. They pretty much scared him to death.
When the monkey was totally terrified, the scientists took a baseline measure of stress hormone levels in the monkey’s brain as it was exposed to these stressors.
Next, the researchers introduced one change into the experiment: they opened the door and put a buddy, another monkey, into the cage. That was it. They exposed the monkeys to the same loud noises and flashing lights, and then took another measure of stress hormones. The Result? The level of stress hormones in the brain had dropped in half. The lone monkey was only half as good at handling stress as the pair was together.
So my question for you guys… who’s your monkey?!
Who’s my Monkey? After Dr. Cloud shared that study, I wanted to call him Henry and invite him into my cage! I was that lonely primate with climbing levels of cortisol and I needed a monkey. He made the point that no one can handle the challenges of life and ministry alone. But since Henry wasn’t available, I might have to open my rattling cage to some other monkeys.
I know I need people in my life. But honestly, it isn’t easy for me. I’ve had some less than desirable monkeys try to move in with me. In ministry and life, it is a challenge to find healthy boundaries in relationships. There is an underlying temporary nature to relationships particularly in ministry. Distinguishing between the pretenders and true friends hasn’t been easy. I’ve been burned by some real hot potatoes!
Nevertheless, I took took the advice to heart and began to pray for insight. I asked myself if I could try one more time to open the door of my life and heart to those I was called to minister with. I talked and prayed with The Pastor about being vulnerable once more. I knew it was risky business. We both did. With our cages rattling, we sensed God saying, “Just one more time.”
It’s been only a short six months from that step of faith. We obeyed God’s call for us to stay faithful to our commitment and let Him lead and work. In some ways those months have been like years. Struggles, weaknesses, and dreams laid out on the altar of trust. Vulnerability can make the shaking even more painful. And when the realization comes that some of those you invited in, have been out side the cage all along doing the shaking, it is devastating.
Who is my Monkey? I’m asking myself this question once again, but I know the answer. I’m not sidelined and I know whose bench I’m sitting on. I have my man, The Pastor. Once again we are seeking God’s direction and will for our lives. We are together on our knees vulnerable before our Savior. My dear daughters and their families. Nothing compares to the love and support they demonstrate in so many ways. My brother and his family throw out the life-line that I hold on to over any miles. A few friends that give comfort and understanding when the fire blazes.
But, just like those three that stepped into the fire and came out unharmed, it is the very presence of the Three-in-One that wraps the arms of love and protection around me.
The Holy Spirit is doing the triage by drying tears and giving comfort.
Jesus is empathizing with my weakness. He knows my shortcomings.
God is holding my hand. The Right hand of my Father has me in His Grip.
This world is relentless in rattling me with troubles, ministry or not. Thankfully the dizzying blows are only temporary. My God is faithful to do even more than I can ask or imagine. The very presence of the Good Shephard is leading me beside the still waters and restoring my soul.
So, Who’s your Monkey?
There was this Women’s Retreat that I went to just a couple of weeks ago. “His Story: It’s All Joy” was the theme. All the ingredients had been prepared for God to be able to show-up. He did. Big time.
The early fall weather was perfect at a spirit-filled conference center in the small mountain town. Details like goodie bags, name tags and centerpieces were tended to. The worship team was practiced. The anticipation of how the Holy Spirit would move could be felt as prayers were lifted for the weekend to a start.
I’ve had my share of experiences with Women’s Retreats. Great times to get away from the daily grind and focus on spiritual growth. Time for being in community with friends and just having fun. I’ve cherished most of those times where the Holy Spirit drew me in and did some heart work.
This retreat didn’t disappoint. 30 women bonding together with songs, crafts, meals, and heart work. The speaker honed right in with how we can “count it all joy”. Familiar territory for this retreat veteran.
During that Friday night session, the speaker spoke of something she called ‘Biblical Imagination’. The type of meditation that helps us practice the presence of God in our lives. In Ephesians 1:18, Paul prays that ‘the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you”. Could the eyes of my heart be that biblical imagination that allows me to picture more of who God is and the hope I am called to?
I was curious and as she continued her thoughts, I was encouraged. She mentioned that Oswald Chambers, one of my life-long favorites, wrote about imagination. How it was dangerous for the believer not to use their imagination to practice the presence of God. “Is your imagination stayed or starved,” Chambers asks? I concluded that this girl who lives in the here and now of her five senses was probably a little malnourished! Time for the eyes of my heart to get a wake up call.
That evening as we sat around tables with fall pumpkins and our eyes closed, she read scripture verses. As the Word of God surrounded us, she asked us to focus on what the eyes of our heart might be seeing. How was the presence of the Holy Spirit renewing my mind’s eye? What was I seeing? What was I hearing?
For the past few months I had been feeling alone and disconnected from God. I know he is always with me, but I was experiencing a sort of wandering nevertheless. Some anxiety even, as I thought about the future. The uncertainties of health, income, and ministry had been weighing heavy on my heart. I had been asking God for a new perspective. One that focuses on His purpose and plan.
After a few minutes of praying and listening to God’s Word being read, my mind began to see something. I visualized a hand, the hand of God, reaching out to me. It was something to hold on to. I was reminded that I am not alone and with out purpose. As this picture of God’s hand came to my mind I heard a verse from Isaiah…
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10
My heart was filled with the Joy that comes from the work of the Spirit. I felt reassured that I was not alone. All I had to do was reach out my hand to God and He would be there.
But there was more…I had a deep sense that The Pastor was going through a strong spiritual attack. The word oppression even came to mind. I felt a heaviness in my spirit knowing that the man I love was in such a vulnerable place spiritually.
The song “How Sweet the Sound” played and I felt the wave of amazing grace wash over me. I held on to the righteous right had of God. I knew that He would strengthen and uphold me.
I talked with the speaker afterwards. The funny thing is she never read that verse. It wasn’t in her notes.
In my deepest need He is holding onto me. Taking care of the enemies who rage against me. My enemies might be worry, anxiety, or health.They might be those circumstances that are out of my control like suddenly losing your life’s work and experiencing the changes follow. Isaiah 41 continues…
“All who rage against you
will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
those who oppose you
will be as nothing and perish.
Though you search for your enemies,
you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you
will be as nothing at all.
For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.” Isaiah 41: 11-13
The oppression and spiritual attack that I sensed The Pastor experiencing is nothing when I am holding onto God’s right hand. I am not afraid. God is protecting me.
My Story is God’s Story. Redeemed. Preserved. Encouraged. Strengthened. Victorious.
This song has gotten me through many painful ministry situations. I am listening to it this Sunday morning knowing that even though I feel washed up and gasping for air, no storm will do me in. Deep waters only lead to amazing rescues by the one who saves. I will miss my Amethyst family this morning, all the while knowing that…Just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27 NIV)