When “Doing” And “Being” Converge

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For one of the sessions, I got to speak in the main worship center of Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church.

In my relationship with God, my heart’s default position is to be a “do-er” for Him. Historically, I prefer task to love. Which, of course, is completely unsatisfactory to Him and destructive to me. Which, of course, is why much of my adult spiritual life has been about unwinding this soul-killing, task-oriented twisted-ness of mine. Which, of course, is why, His calling on my life is to learn to do the long, hard, painful and at times crushingly lonely work of learning to become a better and more complete “be-er” in Him. Which, of course, both breaks and re-makes my heart, all at the same time.

Recently, I was invited to speak at Confluence – the fall conference for the Georgia Baptist Campus Ministries. (If you go to the website, under Conference Details, you can see my photo and bio:)  It actually was quite a convergence of meaningful events for me…the chance to share with hundreds of university students some of what God has been teaching me along the way, an opportunity to reconnect with special friends who do student ministry across the state, and a time for me to be reminded of something of who I am and who God has made me to be. Because there have been moments in this last season of life, as God has been sowing the deep “being” lessons in my heart, when I’ve pretty much lost sight of how I might ever “do” for Him again. deanna teaching

Humorously enough, the topic I was asked to speak to was A Heart For Christ: longing to know Him more. The very same thing God has been talking with me about for the last season of life. And further adding to the chuckles, the only concrete instruction from the conference organizers about what to address was, “We don’t want to add to the students’ to-do lists, by piling on suggestions of disciplines for them to do.” Hmmm. They wanted me to speak on the dynamic of “being” with God, not just “doing” for Him. The very thing I’ve exhausted so much time and energy on gaining for myself. Confluence, indeed.

I am including a link to the talk, for those who might want to hear how it went.

A Heart For Christ – longing to know Him more, Deanna Davis, 9.26.15.

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The Beauty (and Sneakiness) of Ordinary

I’ve known for a long time that I’m kind of ordinary. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy wrestling through this depressing truth. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know all the “right” responses to this…”There’s only ever been one of me in all of history”, “God made me special”, “If I were the only photo-13person on earth, Jesus would have still come for me”, “No one shares my fingerprint or DNA, literally and metaphorically”, etc, etc etc.

It’s just that my culture of famous, notable ministers, of passionate coffee-drinking, creative/hipsters changing the world, and social media allowing me to see it all, have combined to give me a deeply entrenched inferiority complex, leading to some rather profound spiritual wounding. Those with intense and successful ministries, tell me that to really be a disciple of Jesus, my life must be radical. My deeds awesome. My sacrifice epic. In fact, they use their personal examples of how God has used them, to encourage me to pursue great things for my great God. And I agree with almost everything they say, even as I come up short by comparison. Then, there are creative/hipsters out there who live these amazingly interesting lives pursuing their dreams…and who inadvertently shame me for, ironically enough, financially supporting their creativity through my consumption and encouragement of their attempts to change the world.  Then, Facebook lets me see glimpses of other’s extraordinary lives that look so much more meaningful and, honestly, more fun, than mine… that my heart, immediately and without too much of a push, goes to some dark and self-condemning places.

It isn’t hard to see how I could begin to think, “Hmmm…this says something about how God feels about me… that His plan for me is so…ordinary.”

What bothers me most is not that I will never win a Nobel prize, or build an orphanage in Asia, or lead a movement-starting ministry. It is that God has called me to be ordinary. As far as I know, I am not living a disobedient life to my Savior. And as a result of my faithfulness to Him, I live in a rather nondescript suburb of a pretty average city. I am pursuing an important, but not a particularly world-shaking profession. I go to a healthy and loving local church, but we aren’t pumping out best-selling books, hosting large conference or creating paradigm shifting worship albums. My personal ministry is very fulfilling, but no one will look at my “numbers” and do anything but yawn. Most of my days are spent getting kids off to school, cooking and cleaning, driving, bed time routines, conversation and Parks And Rec reruns with my husband in between it all.

I am ordinary. By both providential calling and gifting. Sigh.

What I’m finding though, is that ordinary can be beautiful. And learning to find Jesus and His love in the ordinary parts of life is actually a most extraordinary pursuit. Because, while ordinary is where I live, it is where Jesus lives too.

In the naps, in the snuggles, in the casseroles, in the traffic jams, in the coffee, in the time spent pairing up socks.

He is enough. I am enough. 

There is beauty in the sacrifice required to be a parent to kids day in day out, in learning to put the needs of another in front of my own and learning to enjoy it even. There is beauty in being fully present at my church every Sunday…faithfully worshipping God, serving others, offering my gifts, and receiving the gifts of others. There is beauty in a marriage that is best represented by an open front door, a well-used kitchen table, a refrigerator with kids’ report cards and artwork stuck to it, and a bed that my beloved husband and I have decided will only, and ever be, just for the two us to share. There is beauty in following Jesus as best as I know how in the middle of all of this.

Most healing…most growth…most blessings…are found in the ordinary places of our lives. And the gift wrap they come in is the ordinary people and relationships that we often overlook. “Ordinary” can be sneaky that way.

Not everyone gets to change the world. But everyone can be changed.  Jesus extends the invitation to become more like Him, (which is indeed quite extraordinary) in the midst of our ordinariness. And it is a goal that everyone has the potential to reach. I can be a success in His eyes, in my eyes, by being exactly who He has created me to be, exactly where He has placed me, doing exactly what He has asked me to do.

Micah 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.


 

The greatest love stories are those that play out all around us in the middle of ordinary.  An Ed Sheeran song, of all things, gives beautiful words to this in a wonderful married person’s love song. He sings, “We found love right where we are.” Most of us do, you know.

If you haven’t seen The Lego Movie yet, what are you waiting for? It is a celebration of how ordinary is often a sneaky cover for extraordinary. And, I totally could have given this speech.

 

And My Answer Is…Yes.

Jesus, my answer to you is yes.

To whatever it is you ask, to whatever it is You want. To wherever You lead, even and especially when I don’t know where we are going. Yes to following You through pain and things I would never choose for myself or my most beloved ones. Yes to the loss of choice and how that terrifies me. Yes to a season of darkness if it means I learn to find Your hand in that very darkness.

Yes to following You into places in my heart that cause me to grimace and wince because of their raw power. Yes to opening up my most private, shameful and personal memories, allowing you to speak to them and change my perception of them. Yes to Your changing my habits and patterns that are so ingrained and hidden, only a serious disruption of “normal” brings them into view. Yes to my paying attention to and cooperating with whatever disruption it takes for you to save me from myself. Yes to letting you pry my hands off of my beloved status quo.

Yes to You loving me enough that sometimes You tell me “no.” Yes to letting You break my heart if it will save me from the damage that some of the things I love do to me. Yes to letting go of things that are less so you can give me more.  Yes to releasing that which has been holding me tighter than I have been holding it.

Yes to walking in to the unknown and to following You down paths where no one can go with me. Yes to a heart sickening loneliness if it teaches me to learn to love and relate to You more authentically and healthily. Yes to Your plans for me, even as it means the death of my dreams for me. Yes to not running from fear of You when You choose to flex Your muscles, to exercise Your sovereignty, to call attention to the fact that I am helpless before You. Yes to laying down my desires and my control tendencies, to opening my hands and being willing for them to stay empty for as long as You want. Because yes, I believe You want to eventually fill them with more than I had before. And Yes to You taking as long as You want to accomplish Your purposes in my life, even as I think I’ll die waiting for You.

Yes to You stripping away my illusions of how I think the world works in exchange for You teaching me the truth of how it actually works. Yes to the grief that comes along with seeing truth for the first time and realizing how long I’ve lived with lies. Yes to following You to places of repentance and an accurate self-view that can be so devastating.

Yes to Your request to physically occupy more space in my heart that I have given away to idols and taken for myself. Yes to not just allowing You to take up space, but to my inviting You in, willingly and wholeheartedly. Yes to learning and re-learning how to love you in a way that actually honors You, rather than in a way that is convenient for me.

Yes to resting in You and to letting You lead. Yes to slowing down even as my heart pushes me to speed up. Yes to letting You be You, even when it is so bewildering, confusing and doubt-inducing. Yes to Your heart for me and yes to trusting You with my heart. Yes to the lifelong process of acknowledging, with my head, mouth and life that You are indeed God and that you are indeed good.

My answer to you is yes. May it always be yes.

(originally published 5/18/13)

Making Things Round

I was leading a women’s retreat in Germany this past weekend.  It was a wonderful time to say a joyful “hello” to beloved friends whom I had to say a tearful”goodbye” to years ago.  And during this time, I learned a beautiful German phrase and concept that has deeply blessed me.  About halfway through, I asked a friend how she felt it was going, and she answered, “It isn’t round yet.”  What she meant was, the circle wasn’t closed. The start was good, and she could see the intended trajectory.  But the story of open circleour time together, of the material we were talking about, of what it might mean to her personally, was still open and not quite finished.  It needed some closure to be able to hold it properly.

As I walk with Jesus through the life He has planned for me, I’m learning that He isn’t nearly as uncomfortable with un-roundness as I am. In fact, the discomfort of unfinished things seems to be a primary shaping tool He uses to lovingly heal and grow His children.

Of course, sometimes prayers get answered in the way we want. Lives move forward. Decisions get made and get made well.  People grow and transition to whatever is next.  Progress can be seen.  Joy in the past, in the now and in the potential future is experienced.  Things become round all the time, and will become ultimately so upon His return…all this is cause for great celebration.

But then…there are the dreams that are birthed with the best of intentions, and then get shattered just within grasp.  Disappointment with God’s plans, unanswered questions, the unknown ‘why’ behind a painful ‘what’.  Loss.  Grief.  Shame.  Seasons of life, difficult relationships, wounded people…sometimes they can be like rocks in the middle of a river…instead of moving downstream with the rest of us, life just flows on around them. They are awkwardly stuck in an unfinished place for all to see…and people pass on by, wondering why they can’t move on like everyone else. At least that is how some un-roundness in my life has felt to me.

My experience with life in Europe has been an un-round thing for me for a while now.  Coming to grips with the reality that we will not be able to return in the near future, watching that dream die and seeing that God’s plans for us are different than we thought…I’ve been wrestling with the almost universal mid-life experience of realizing that important external elements of my life are not what I would choose for myself.  At the same time, I’ve been attempting to walk in the very individual experience of realizing that the most important, internal elements of my life are very much within my control. My character.  My responses. My spiritual orientation – towards Him or away from Him. In the face of disappointment, will I become better or bitter? Will I create with what I’m given, or consume?  Will I take responsibility for my own personal/heart growth, and choose a life that is spiritually and emotionally healthy for myself and others…or will I choose to continue the destructive patterns and life strategies that have hurt me and those I love for so long?

Even when we think we don’t have choice, we always have choice.

These are some of the tensions that have been stretching me for a few years now: opening my hands and letting go of good things, so that Jesus can fill them with better things.   Learning how painful a chisel must be to marble, yet what a joy the resulting beauty must be. Embracing the truth that pain can be a fertilizer that grows the most beautiful things in my heart.

When we are stretched…we never go back to our original size.  And now, after walking through a prolonged season of stretching that has lasted years… my trip back to Germany, where so much of my stretching began, has allowed me to see that I am bigger.  My heart is bigger. The Jesus I know is bigger. How He works in my life is bigger. God has allowed me to come full circle, and I am grateful for the relief and release that comes from the closure of it.

At the end of our weekend retreat, my friend let me know that the themes of our weekend did eventually become round.  (As a Bible teacher, that was so great to hear!)  What a gift to me to realize that I did too.

 

May My Dreams Be More Powerful Than My Memories

Memories are these mysteriously paradoxical things.  At their best, they help us form the foundation of our lives. Acting like anchors, they secure us to people, places, our culture, our stories and our history.  They give us a place to from which to launch when we are ready to spread our wings and explore…and a place to land when a season of life exhausts us, when we are hurt, and needing to rest.  They create a filter through which we make future decisions, enabling us to recognize what we like, what is dangerous, what we hope to repeat or avoid. They have the potential to make us smile, reminding us of the joy we’ve experienced, of the people we love, of our most human moments when we touch something divine within us and feel the pleasure of our Maker.  In the darkest night of the soul, they can remind us that the sun used to shine, that if we can just wait long enough, it will shine again, and that sometimes, there are treasures to be found in the darkness.  No wonder God encourages His people to remember… (Ps. 103:2, Ps. 105:5) Our stories are powerful. Everyone should have a few snapshots of genuinely happy moments from their lives, if not stuck to their refrigerator door, then to their hearts, where they can encourage us when we need it most.

At their worst though…memories can be terrible tyrants, rubbing our noses in our failures, in our shame, in our disappointments and heartbreaks.  Instead of an anchor, they act like a ball and chain, tying us to a past we would rather leave behind.  They alter our perceptions of who we are and who God is…and their sometimes uncertain nature makes them a dangerous tool in our enemy’s hands.  Destructive memories can follow and punish us with a ferocity that makes us wince internally and hide from others externally.  Their wounds can be ingrained, like an ill-timed footprint in the wet cement of our hearts.  It is there forever, and forever marring what might have otherwise been beautiful…what was intended by our Maker to be beautiful.  In the darkest nights of the soul, these are the memories that taunt us, telling us that the sun will never shine again, and that the God who made the sun, who made us and who allowed our memory to happen, must not love us because of how unloveable it all makes us feel.  No wonder God also encourages His people to forget… (Is. 43:18, Phil. 3:13) Our stories are indeed powerful.  Everyone has memories like this, taped not to our refrigerator door for all to see, but hidden away in the most vulnerable, and most private places in our hearts.

In light of all this, I have a complicated relationship with my past.  Alternately grateful and regretful. Recognizing the value of owning my past, but not letting it own me.  Not wanting to leave it all behind, but not wanting to bring it all with me either. Knowing the lens I use to look at it changes its value.

Oh Jesus, may my dreams be more powerful than my memories! 

May my life be anchored, not to what was, but to who You are, and to what You’ve promised will be.

May my life be energized by hope, by a future focus, and with the optimism of one who knows that You heal broken things, and that You resurrect dead things from the grave.

May my heart be open to the possibility that tomorrow can be better than today.

May the happiness I’ve been blessed with be a reminder that the joy I feel here is but a foretaste of what is to come.

May the sadness I’ve endured be transformed in Your hands… into a doorway that leads to knowing You more… into plowed ground in which my compassion for those in pain grows… into a prized story I treasure and get to share, because You met me in the middle of it and changed its ending.

May I find and chase after the dreams You’ve given me, that You created me to dream…and may I learn to build my life around them…not on the memories that would restrain me.

May the painful memories of my past… become things that have happened to me…not things that define me.

May I be more motivated to pursue what is before me than chased by what is behind me.

May I be willing to let some things from the past go in order to make room for what will come.

May I take You at Your word when You say I am a new creation, that the old has gone, and the new has come…and that the life sitting before me is a gift, is safe, and holds the potential for my deepest satisfaction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s What He Wants For Me, Not What He Wants From Me

Every once in a while I awaken to the realization that Jesus wants more for me.  Not more from me.  This difference is huge.

He wants more for me than me just being a good Bible student or teacher.  More for me than just attendance at my quiet times or church activities.  More for me than just hands raised high in an emotionally stirring worship event.  More for me than just sin-impulse control or conformity to a noble standard of behavior.

Not that there is anything wrong with the above activities.  In fact, those are wonderful things in and of themselves…and they open the door to the things I’m about to describe. It is just that…every once in a while, usually in a beautiful moment of experience and joy…usually in a moment of connectedness with my body, emotions or the people around me…I realize that He also wants me to be a human being.

Not just a task-performing robot – which unfortunately is the functional definition of a disciple that many of us have internalized.  He wants me to be a real person.  With a body and emotions and preferences.  Not a cardboard cutout who looks good on the front but is 1/2 inch thick.  Not someone who is afraid of the things He’s created…or of deeply enjoying those things He’s created.  He wants to meet me in my humanity in a way that is so deeply spiritual, soul-satisfying and transcendently beautiful, that the stuff of this earth becomes divine.

I think He loves it when I dial back my compulsive drive to achieve, conquer, accumulate and compare that I know isn’t healthy…that I so easily translate into my relationship with Him…and I just relax.  I think He loves it when I am just a human being.  A wife.  A mom.  A lover of buffalo chicken, orange, the sound of leaves rustling and a good back scratching.   I think He cheers me on when I enjoy a really good cup of coffee across the table from a friend and we talk, with no agenda other than connecting.   I suspect He smiles when I put my Bible down and snuggle on the couch with one of my babies,  after eating a lot of popcorn, and laughing at Phineas and Ferb.  I think He’s a fan of my man and I holding hands, of our family eating slow, and us going to the pool on a warm summer day to play.   I bet, as much as I enjoy a walk through a beautiful place in nature or a European city, He enjoys watching me enjoying it more.  Because in these simple and very human things, in my senses, relationships and experiences…I discover these beautiful previously unknown facets of Him and His character, that are not available to me through just Bible study, just organized worship and just a nose-t0-the-grindstone discipline.

It makes me sad to realize I have spent much of my life hiding from Him behind His stuff and blessings and disciplines…thinking that denying how I was made was pleasing to Him.

My humanity is not something I must run from in order to obey Him, but something I can run into in order to find Him.

God wants me to love life here on earth.  Because He wants Himself for me. Nothing less.

Just How Married Do I Want To Be? – My Annual Anniversary Post

Today is my wedding anniversary – and Jeff and I are celebrating! A few years ago I started marking the date by writing something about marriage in general and my marriage in particular, for Intersections on this day. (Past

Our brick in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.

Our brick in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.

examples are here  and here.)  As you can imagine, with the last few years we’ve had with Jeff’s health, I am reflecting quite a bit. Not that I need much to push me into reflective mode, mind you;) but… What a ride we’ve had. So, what follows are a  few meditations on marriage that have been rolling around in my head and heart for a while in light of our present season of life.

  • Just how married do I want to be? In some ways, being married is sort of like being pregnant. Either you are or you aren’t. And in some ways, marriage is sort of like milk. There’s skim, 2% and whole – you have some choice in your experience with it. There have been times in the last few years, with the threat of losing my Jeff hovering over me, that I have found myself pulling away from him emotionally in order to protect myself. Because it is so painful to fully feel all that is going on inside of me. Even as I’ve been very present and very committed to physically taking care of him. This is a natural tendency we all have – pulling away to protect ourselves. So I am asking myself these days, “Just how married do I want to be? Am I willing to go “all-in” even if I know it will hurt unbelievably to “stay in?” (I wrote about this phenomenon here a while back. It is one of my favorite posts I’ve ever written.) “Do I want the type of marriage that protecting myself builds, or do I want the type of marriage that an “all-in” investment, both emotionally and physically, builds? I’ve decided that I want to be very married, as married as one can be. Because “skim” marriage is so watered down…I don’t want a roommate and babysitting partner. I want a husband. And having one of those well takes a lot of work. And emotional capital. And time. And tears.  And I’m willing to pay for THAT experience with marriage… b/c kisses from a man I truly love are so much more satisfying than kisses from a man I just like…b/c I want my kids to grow up in a home where their parents are really married…b/c I want to be loved by Jeff fully like that…b/c when Jeff and I married 18 years ago, this is what we were agreeing to try and do together.
  • Even when I don’t think I have choice, I always have choice. I did not get to choose whether or not my husband got sick. It would be easy to focus on that – and allow helplessness, despair, anger and jealousy of others rise. (And those emotions, and many more, have certainly had their way with me many, many days. Have you read my blog in the past?) But there is so much I do get to choose in my life’s situation! For instance…When our family’s story is told years from now, I get a lot of choice in determining who I will be in that story. Will I be the woman who ran, if not physically, then emotionally? Will I be the woman who allowed bitterness to rise and rule in her heart and life? Or will I be the woman who decided to keep her vows – not just the letter of them, but the spirit of them as well? Will I be a wife who loved her husband as best as she knew how, as fully as she knew how, even as it held the potential to utterly break her heart? Will I choose to find the joy and humor in it all as best as I know how, even when the easier choice is to indulge the despair and self-centeredness that tempts us all in the middle of pain? I also get to choose much of how I walk with my Jesus through my pain – letting Him speak to me through it, heal me with it, strengthen me as IMG_1179a result of it. Which brings me to my next point…
  • Pain isn’t the worst thing that can happen to me. A life without meaning is. It is so easy to try and do my life and marriage without Jesus. Because sometimes He just complicates everything. (I wrote about this here.) And when I hurt, my natural response is to avoid, numb or medicate. Or to assume that the presence of pain indicates I am out of His will for my life, that He is at the worst, cruel, and at best, too busy to notice me. But what if…what if my pain is actually an invitation to more? To allow Jesus to do a deep and healing work of the heart within? To know Him more. To become more. To become a potential blessing to those I love? What if I decide to “stay in” those painful circumstances, and ask Jesus what exactly it is He is doing in my life …and then cooperate with whatever His answer is? I have found that walking with Jesus through pain (instead of around it) does this most amazing thing. It grows my heart bigger. It allows me to love more. Forgive more.  Weep more, yes. But also to laugh and enjoy life and being married more. And when my heart has a greater capacity to feel all that…to be more fully human…really great things happen in my marriage. And in my parenting. And in my life. My marriage can have greater meaning than just making me happy – although that is certainly a part of it! It can be a way Jesus makes me more whole. And I am finding that everyone around me benefits when I bring a more whole me to the table. But I have to choose to stay in it, even when it hurts, even when there are easier choices out there, even when how things are playing out isn’t what I would choose on my own. Because…at least on the days I can gain a glimpse of clarity…I want my life to have meaning. I want my pain to have meaning. And pain is often a doorway to meaning. To clarity. If, and only if, I am willing to walk through it.

So, choosing to stay “all in” my marriage, wholly and fully, even when it hurts…can be absolutely wonderful. Even on the days it most definitely isn’t. And this is part of what I am celebrating today with my husband. Happy Anniversary to us!