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Matters of The Heart

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. (Jeremiah 17:9)

We’ve heard it a thousand times.

I really like that house. I want to find a way to buy it.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.

But I want a cookie!
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.

It would be nice to be friends with him….
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.

That’s a really nice car!
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.

I want to be someone’s mom….
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.

I need to take some time to rest.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.

The verse from Jeremiah 17 often gets applied in ways that make a person doubt their hopes, desires and needs. Applied incorrectly, it can cause a person to push themselves beyond what is healthy and good.

If something is dear to you, that means it’s a bad thing because The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.

Applied incorrectly, this verse leads a person to strive in ways that are unhealthy.

Brownies….. Love me some chocolate! But…. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked! I guess my snack is going to be a glass of water today….

As I’ve been thinking about this verse, it occurred to me that, that was then. Then, as in, at a time in history when people trusted themselves and did not trust God. Jeremiah 17:5 says “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord.”

That — deceitful and wicked hearts — that was then.

This is now.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (II Corinthians 5:17)

There was a time in history when hearts were deceitful and desperately wicked.

Before Jesus and the gospel of Grace.

The Old Testament is full of examples of deceit and wickedness.
Think Amnon and Tamar.
David and the incident involving Bathsheeba.
Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery.
Jezebel.
Haman trying to kill all the Jewish people.
Jonah refusing to warn the people of Ninevah.

And in our own personal lives, yes, at one time, our hearts were deceitful and desperately wicked.

At one time, we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:3-7

Regeneration.
Renewal.

Jesus makes all things new.

All things. Including our hearts.

If Jesus is in you and you are truly seeking Him, it is impossible for your heart to remain “deceitful and desperately wicked.”

I encourage you to trust Jesus in you instead of worrying about what your heart used to be without Him.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2016 in Profundities

 

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30 Things, 4 Years Later: Day 19

30 Things to Accomplish in my 30s: Day 19

#19 Avoid making decisions based solely on fear.

I think this one made the list simply because today, I needed to be reminded that decisions that are made because we feel afraid or insecure tend to be not-so-good decisions.

Because today, I could make all kinds of decisions because of bad things that could happen. I’ve had a bunch of unknowns pop up lately. And it would be so nice to do the safe thing.

Faith or fear? Faith or fear? What’s it going to be?

I might have done too well on this goal. I bought a house for crying out loud! I bought a house against the recommendations of everyone who offered an opinion.

I went back to school. I went back to school terrified that I’d flunk out — or even worse, I’d get through all the classes and then not be able to pass the NCLEX for licensure.

I started orthodontia, knowing that I might have to have surgery, which would have been a nightmare on many levels. (It turned out that I didn’t have to have surgery!)

When you’re a grownup, you have to make lots of decisions that involve choosing between the safe option and the unknown. I used to always choose the safe option. I’ve learned that being safe all the time is almost always boring and more often than not, it’s not the healthiest choice or the choice that will bring the most peace and joy.

For those who struggle with choosing the courageous option, the risky option, the option that requires the most faith — for all of us, including myself, I want to close with this:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.
Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you will find refuge.
His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you make the Most High your dwelling
even the Lord, who is my refuge
Then no harm will befall you.
No disaster will come near your tent.
For He will command His angels concerning you,
to guard you in all your ways,
they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
Because he loves me says the Lord,
I will rescue him; I will protect him for he acknowledges my name.
He will call upon me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble.
I will deliver him and honor him. with long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.
Psalm 91

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2016 in 30 Things

 

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30 Things, 4 Years Later: Day 17

I read this article this evening and it reminded me of my 17th goal.

30 Things to Accomplish in my 30s: Day 17
#17 (Original wording) Raise awareness for victims of domestic violence. This does not mean wearing a ribbon, posting underwear colors or even raising money. It means educating people as to what sorts of things are classified as abuse. It means developing relationships with victims and helping them see their value and purpose. It means teaching parents how to raise kids who are neither victims nor abusers. It means putting forth time and effort in order to eradicate domestic violence from our society. I’m really passionate about this because heathy families equal a healthy society. And every child deserves to live in a non-chaotic, non-violent, healthy and happy home.

I spent many years prior to moving to SD being deeply involved in ministry and leadership at the church I attended. Then things happened. Jesus did something in me. I had been really…. arrogant, I guess. I looked down on people who weren’t as “righteous” as me. I avoided people who were different.
 
And then I became the “different” one. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say that I went from top of the heap to bottom of the pile in my social circle. I learned what it was like to be treated the way I had treated other people.
 
I spent a lot of time on my face, sobbing and crying out to God to fix it.
 
He didn’t fix it.
 
Some things happened. One person wanted to reconcile, but by the time she had gotten to that point, I had begun to realize that I had learned many of those habits from her and I didn’t want to be that way, so I said no.
 
For two and a half years, I spent most of my spare time on my face on the floor, sobbing and asking for things to change.
 
The thing that changed was me.
 
I finally began to have a small understanding of grace.
 
I looked at the people around me. Not the pastors. Not the deacons. Not the elders. Not the wealthy people who had it all together. Not the married people. Not the people who had good careers and natural abilities to do wonderful things.
 
I looked at the addicts. I looked at the broken people. The ones who had their first babies when they were 13 and the ones who were on their 4th marriages. I looked at the ones with mental illness and physical illness and the ones who had had abortions and the broken families. I looked at the moms whose hearts were breaking because their sons or daughters were dying from alcoholism or drug addiction. I looked at the children who had been abused, the mothers who had to choose between a “godly home” (staying with a spouse who was abusive) and a safe home.
 
I looked at those things and I think I saw what Jesus sees when He looks at us. I didn’t see sin. I saw broken people. Scared people. People who need love and support and a place they can call home filled with people they can call family.
 
I looked at those people and I saw myself.
 
A broken person, desperate for love.
 
I looked at those people and I said, “But for the grace of God, that would be me.”
 
When one has that kind of revelation, one of two things happens.
 
The person could get incredibly stuck up. “Oh, yeah. Look at me! I just happened to escape all these horrible things that other people struggle with every day.”
 
Or, they can be incredibly humbled.
 
The latter happened to me. I began to be more open and friendly. I had tasted the grace of God and I was eager to extend it to all who came. It was a beautiful time in my life — except for one thing.
 
The church hated this change in me.
 
The straw that broke the camel’s back was that I was a friend to a woman who had chosen to leave her abusive husband and I was as much of a protector to their sweet baby girl as I could be.
 
I could go into a bunch of detail about this, but I’ll spare you. I got really familiar, really fast, with the resources available to battered spouses and victims of domestic violence. I also got really familiar with how little law enforcement wants to be involved. I got really familiar with the retaliatory tactics of abusive spouses. I learned what abuse is and how to spot it and how to get away from it. I learned how it hurts children for generations to come.

I learned that domestic violence has got to end.

I haven’t been closely involved with shelters or anything like that because my life has been so busy with so many things.

When I converse with people and learn of people experiencing violence in their homes, I try to provide education and options. If I can, I take women and kids into my home so they can be safe. I do whatever I can, whenever I can to see people as Jesus sees them — broken people who need love.

Learn more about domestic violence by clicking here.

If you need help, click here.
A book for women in abusive relationships.
Understand why abusers do what they do.
Understand how childhood trauma affects people into adulthood.
 
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Posted by on April 26, 2016 in 30 Things

 

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Stumbling

I was talking tonight with a friend of mine about ridiculous things that have happened to us at the hands of pastors and elders and whatnot from “Christian” churches.

I don’t think that a lot of what happens in churches and between clergy and congregants is necessarily something that Jesus would condone and I don’t think He would be pleased with a large chunk of it.

I have to put quotation marks around the word “Christian” after the things I’ve experienced. Many of those things have been decidedly un-Christian. Many of those things have caused me to question my faith and whether God is really real and if He really loves me. The very places where we are supposed to go to learn and grow and be nurtured and protected have been more painful than helpful for me.

Believing is hard when the place you’re supposed to go to get watered and cared for is a war zone.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Luke 17:1-2

I’m not sure how one would process those verses with this situation. Obviously, Jesus is compassionate to the broken and the oppressed. He has no tolerance for those who break and oppress.

If you’re broken and oppressed, Jesus loves you. Jesus weeps for you. Jesus wants to crush everything that is breaking you and oppressing you.

I don’t know what that means when the breakers and the oppressors are at church. What does it mean when a pastor lies about you? What does it mean when the church’s agenda is to control every little detail of your life and keep you in perpetual childhood? What does it mean when the people who think they’re serving Jesus use their “ministry” as a means to micromanage every last detail of your life?

Believing is hard when the people who are supposed to demonstrate Jesus to you use their “authority” in ways that hurt you.

I want to believe. I really, really do.

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace. (Psalm 29:11)

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.
(Psalm 27:13-14)

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2016 in Rants

 

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30 Things, 4 Years Later: Day 9

30 Things to Accomplish in My 30s:
#9. Be involved in music to the extent that I don’t get freaked out about singing solos anymore.

I sing solos all the time.

I sing about Green Speckled Frogs.
And T-H-E-Y spells “they,” T-H-E-Y spells “they”….
An Octopus Swam in the Ocean…..
It was an Itsy-Bitsy Teeny-Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini….
Write Your Name at the Top of the Page….
The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round….
The Sun will come out Tomorrow!

You get the picture.

“Mari! Can you sing me a song about Jesus? And then sing Jingle Bells?”

I spend a lot of time with 6 year olds.

As far as actual performances are concerned….

That chapter in my story is gone and done.

Several years ago, I sang on the church worship team almost every Sunday. I was in the choir in college. I sang at funerals and weddings.

After being cruelly criticized by people who said they were my friends, I developed a devilish case of anxiety. I didn’t want people to look at me. I didn’t want people to hear me. I just wanted to hide.

I moved away from that environment and I thought I could maybe get back into it later — hence this goal.

I’ve thought on it a lot the past few years and I’ve concluded that there were some beautiful moments in music for me. I learned a lot. I developed a lot of friendships. I had a lot of fun.

But that part of my life is done.

I have no desire to be in front of people for any reason. My singing voice is gone. It’s just not something I’m good at anymore — and it’s not something I enjoy or want to do anymore.

So, I’ll stick to singing solos about spelling and green frogs and octopi and the wheels on the bus to audiences of 6 year olds. They seem to enjoy it more than grown-ups do anyway. It’s a win for everybody.

And on that note….

You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to, give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try
You don’t have to try
(Colbie Caillat, Try)
 
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Posted by on April 18, 2016 in 30 Things

 

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In Memory

A while ago, I mentioned briefly that I had a friend who passed away on the day that I moved to South Dakota nearly 2 years ago.

Joyce was the secretary of my church and everything she did was done out of love. She poured herself into the people around her. She was heavily involved in ministry at church, and I had met her at one of those ministries. She prayed for me, and I instantly knew that she was the real deal. She wasn’t just putting on a religious mask.She was safe.

I don’t even know why I met with her one day shortly after that. I wasn’t the kind of person who did those things. I was more like a hermit crab. Ok, so maybe not the crab part, but most definitely the hermit part. I didn’t say much and I had to be talked into doing things with other people. For a while I made a small effort relationally at college, but I got nowhere with that endeavor, so I just gave up.

For some reason that I can’t explain, I went to talk with Joyce one day.

And my life has never been the same.

Joyce took me under her wing. She wanted to hear about everything that mattered to me. She wanted to spend time with me and she let me know that the things that mattered to me mattered to her.

Often, I would go to the church office and help her fold bulletins and we would talk about all the things that matter most. And often, I would end up crying and she would say something funny and we’d laugh until we were both crying.

But the beautiful thing was that she always talked about God’s faithfulness. She always reminded herself (and me!!) of where we had come from and how amazing it was that God had done such a work in us. We would cry — and then we would laugh, because Joyce could find something to laugh about, no matter how terrible the situation. Every word she said was positive and encouraging.

Sometimes she put her finger on things that just hurt. And we would cry. She would pray that the areas that were so painful would be fixed and healed and…. just, made better. She had so much empathy. So much compassion.

I like to say that anything good, beautiful and honorable that anybody sees in me is a reflection of Joyce. Because in those years after leaving (I’ll talk about that more one of these days), I became bitter and ugly. But Joyce took what was there and determined to love it, just as it was. She saw beauty and worth where others only saw garbage. She gave me a sense of humanity. She helped me see that I mattered.

Just over 4 years ago, Joyce was diagnosed with cancer.

Cancer is wicked. Awful. Terrible.

Words can not describe how I hate cancer.

I took Joyce to several of her treatments. I watched her begin to get sick as the chemo began the poisoning process. I watched her lose her gorgeous red hair and I watched as her skin was burned by the radiation treatments. I watched with glee as she slowly regained her strength, her hair grew back and finally, the tumor shrunk enough that they could remove it. I was so stoked the day we found out that she was cancer-free. I was shocked and awed when it was revealed that the type of cancer she had usually killed a person in a matter of months — and here she was, 6 months later, completely free of cancer.

Five months later, the headaches came.

Brain tumor.

I happened to be at the hospital the day she had surgery. I saw her shortly after she came out of surgery. She cried when she saw me. And then she asked me if I’d stopped at Lange’s for a cup of coffee on the way (the only decent cup of coffee on the planet, if you ask me) and we both chuckled a little and then I started bawling because I was so grateful that having brain surgery hadn’t changed her. She was still her goofy old self. And then all of a sudden, she said, “Oh, it hurts!”

I probably can’t fully describe what happened that day. It totally messed me up — in a good way. Because when she told me she was in pain, I began to literally feel her pain. It was like this big weight was on me and I cried and I prayed because that was the only thing I could do. The nurses told me they couldn’t give pain meds because of the nature of the surgery and the only thing I could do was cry out to God to bring peace and comfort. Joyce was hanging on to my hands and we were both crying and sputtering and all of a sudden, I could feel Jesus in the room with us. After a few minutes, Joyce began to pray for the people in the rooms around her. She knew some of those people were dying. The way she saw things, she couldn’t focus on her pain as long as the people around her were in worse shape than she was.

Several months later, the pain phase started. Debilitating pain. Incomprehensible pain. Pain that would not be relieved, no matter what was done. I watched her slowly grow weaker.

I saw Joyce for the last time on a Thursday afternoon in late March. I don’t know what I expected to see, but what I saw did not match my expectations. The hospice nurse told me that even though she was unconscious, she could hear me, so I should talk to her. When Joyce heard my voice, she squeezed my hand. It was like she was saying “I love you” one last time. Like she was repeating every uplifting thing she’d ever said to me. Like she was saying, “My part is done. You have what it takes to get through whatever comes.”

I think I have an idea of what Jesus’ disciples must have felt like in those days after He ascended into heaven. Their closest Friend, their biggest fan, their encourager, the source of love, support — the one Person who affected their whole world — was suddenly gone. They were left to try to figure things out on their own.

It’s hard to believe when the person who helped you believe suddenly leaves. It’s hard to know how to proceed. It’s hard to know what to do, where to go, what to think. It’s hard to pray, to feel and to express those feelings. It’s hard to process things. It’s hard to make yourself take the time to listen for the Holy Spirit. It’s basically just hard to believe.

It’s been almost two years and I still struggle. I struggle a lot. I’m not going to be one of those strange people who says she is so fixated on Joyce’s absence that a day doesn’t go by without thinking about it. I don’t think about it every day.

But I do doubt. I doubt every day. Sometimes I ask how some people get healed and people like Joyce, who had more faith than anybody I’ve ever met, suffer and die. I wonder how it is possible that God was not willing (because He’s certainly able) to completely heal her. Sometimes I wonder why the one person on earth who made me feel unconditionally loved could be taken in such a terrible, painful way. How is it even fair?

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2013 in My Story

 

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My Mid-Faith Crisis: Why I don’t believe in Christianity Anymore

The title of this post is very provocative and I hope people take the time to read what I have to say rather than simply rejecting me because they believe I’ve turned heathen.

Because I haven’t turned heathen.

The fact that many Christian people will judge me as a heathen based on the title of this post is one reason I don’t believe in Christianity anymore.

Christianity has turned into a political agenda, a social class, a set of rules and regulations that frankly, don’t make much sense to the average Joe who hasn’t been schooled on the issue.

My personal understanding of Christianity has evolved throughout my life. My first understanding of Christianity was “God is right and everybody else is wrong.” Then it was, “We are right and everybody else is wrong.” Then it was “The Republican, Pro-Life, Homeschool, ‘Sweet 36, Never Been Kissed’, Pop Out 17 Babies crowd is right and everybody else is wrong.” After that, it was “My church is right and my friends are maybe right, but everybody else is wrong.”

Then I had what I like to refer to as my Mid-Faith Crisis.

And at that point, I began to question if anything about Christianity — especially church, pastors and people who call themselves Christians — is right at all.

*****

It’s been over 4 years since this all went down.

During the past 4 years, I went to church every Sunday. I went to every Bible study I could. I hung out with Christian people. I prayed. I read my Bible. I talked to people about Jesus. I wrote about Jesus. I taught small children about Jesus.

And tonight, even though I have officially stepped away from the line in the sand marked “Christianity,” I am going to church. I’m going to worship Jesus, pray, read the Bible and probably listen to a sermon. I’m going to hug my friends and kiss my friends’ sweet preschoolers on the way out the door.

Because, my experience has shown me that the further you run from religious labels, the closer you get to Jesus.

*****

Several years ago, I got caught up in the idea of ministry and discipleship. I put forth great effort to love the people the church wanted me to love. They did a great job showing me how to love. It was a really great experience. It transformed my life.

Six years ago, a guest minister at my church told the congregation that I would be an example to them of how to truly give up your life for the sake of the gospel. He told them that I would be a challenge to them, not because I had a challenging attitude, but because I would do something and they would have to decide if they were going to embrace me and what I was doing.

Just over a year later, it happened. Individuals in the church chose to ostracize me. Other churches in town started rumors about me and the ministries I was working with began to disclude me. Finally, I told my pastor that I wanted to move. He said, “I believe your time in this community has come to an end.”

That little paragraph doesn’t even begin to explain the hurt and frustration. By the time I left, I wasn’t sure if I even believed in God anymore. The only thing I knew was that I hated church and “Christian” people were the biggest crowd of back-stabbing, evil people there were.

But, I kept going to church. Church was normal. So I went. I read my Bible. I sorta prayed. Sorta.

*****

This past Sunday, my pastor spoke about discipleship and challenged the church to do discipleship relationships with people. He urged us to find someone to mentor and find someone to mentor us.

I love that idea.

But the problem is that my personal way of discipling people typically isn’t a method that Christian people can make peace with.

My way of discipling people is to get to know them and figure out what they need. I like to meet them where they are, talk to them, serve them, pray for and with them and just be a friend as much as I can.

Even if the person in question is a lesbian.

Or a prostitute.

Or a single mom.

*****

I don’t believe in Christianity anymore because the meaning of Christianity has morphed into a political and social concept that is void of reality, depth and life.

Jesus didn’t come to bring political agendas and social class.

Jesus came so that we can have LIFE (John 10:10) and because this is the case, everything we do in the name of Jesus ought to be something that brings life. If we are truly followers of Jesus (which I strive to be!!), then we should be doing the things Jesus did. We should be hanging out with the outcasts (how about those who are gender-confused?), the needy (single moms, anybody?) and the broken (what about the abused spouse?). We should be looking for ways to love and serve those who need it the most.

*****

When my personal Mid-Faith Crisis began, it was because I saw someone who had a need, and I felt compelled to stand by them through their crisis.

The church failed that day.

Christianity failed.

But Jesus didn’t. That is why I follow Jesus. And that is why I don’t put much faith in the concept of “Christianity” anymore.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2013 in Current Events, My Story

 

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