fear

A Story for the Overwhelmed Leader in Today’s Crisis

A sharp snap and the water washed into my face with the force of a summer hose. Stepping back, through unfocused eyes I saw the showerhead idling in the basket underneath, broken off. Turning the water off with an unsavory word, I commenced to redress and look for an extra showerhead I’d seen somewhere in the house. I punctuated my internal self-condemnation with stomps. Ashamed, I hoped my husband wouldn’t notice, but knew I’d have to tell him anyway. Avoiding the others in the house, I found and installed the new head then turned the water on to resume my escape to the privacy of the shower. Frustratingly, this one offered a weak stream that hardly tickled. I longed for the flagellating force of the old one. It would match my mood of recrimination better. Soon my tears flowed with the rivulets of water, and I faced the anger that was roiling inside.

I’d only made it to day twelve of the lockdown due to the threat of COVID19.

I was heartily disappointed with myself, angry that I couldn’t keep my peace longer. I’d increasingly felt trapped and imprisoned, not by the walls of my house (I took lots of walks and bike rides) but by the needs and anxieties of my family.

The first week I expended an enormous amount of energy to set and maintain a rhythm that would work for all of us, while being the constant, trustworthy presence for my daughter who was in the throes of anxiety-driven fury. Yesterday, I discovered that while I was immersed in one child’s needs, I’d missed guiding my quiet one through this turbulence and now she was suffering.

Noise was increasingly becoming intolerable for me, so when my mom started putting away the dishes I had to leave the room. I went up to my bedroom and found my husband there. I glared because I assumed he was going to take a nap, and I’d have to move again.

He was only putting on his socks.

Chagrined and dismayed with myself, I flopped into my chair, too riled to work. That’s when I thought a shower might help calm me.

As I sat in the shower, feeling all the pent up anger, voicing it in colorful language and hot breath to myself and God, I finally owned it. For a while, it was just raw and ugly. I was breathing hard, fierce and tense, my voice hoarse and vehement. All the energy inside me punctuated the air like shrapnel as the shower water washed it down the drain. But as the ferocity of feeling ebbed lower, I could start to listen for God.

In tandem we looked at my desires fueling my anger. I desperately wanted to have some space, to not be responsible for anyone else, and to live as I wished. The demands on me felt like too much. I felt selfish, a wimp, and sorely limited. I hated that such a small amount (in my estimation) overwhelmed me, and disappointed in my inability to remain positive and calm.

A huge desire rose in me to push everyone away so I could have space, even though I had carefully been taking breaks, getting exercise, spending time in prayer, practicing mindfulness, doing things I enjoy—all the things that help me take care of myself. Still I was sobbing on the floor of my shower after having broken the showerhead in anger! What was wrong with me?!

What’s wrong is that I want to be God. I want to be able to do it all—in this case it meant not devolving into the anxieties I felt around me (because I’m better than that, right?) I could accommodate my limitations to others and not bump up against my frailties. I could remain calm and balanced always, a constant supply of help to everyone. Truthfully, I was proud that I was not anxious like everyone else while dealing patiently and equitably with the tempers and whines of the kids.

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

I did feel humiliated, but only before my ego, not God. He warmly and readily welcomed me, as if my shame, nakedness and disappointment were not cause for separation. I experienced Romans 8:39 personally:

Absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

I very much felt like he was opening his arm with a broad smile as he said, “There you are! I’ve been waiting for you!” Not a hint of recrimination, condemnation, or vengeance—he was not like a vengeful teenager wanting to bring an arrogant classmate down a peg or two. Rather, his was the glad welcome of a dear friend from whom I’d been separated. And only a dear friend is willing to meet you where you wallow.

As I sat in my vulnerability with him, he gently reminded me of various truths. The first was regarding how he’s put me together: I am steady during a crisis for everyone else, then fall apart once they’re all okay. This was part of what was happening.

He also gave me the experience of the truth of forgiveness. It washed over me like the soft rain from the showerhead as I confessed my desire and efforts to be god. Confessing my dislike and rejection of my own limitations and needs, I ended with deep, glad breaths for who God is and who I am with him. I felt resurrected, and the rest of my day evidenced this. The Kimberley who stalked into the shower to hide came out a truer Kimberley ready to give.

I tell my story because perhaps the toll of leading and caring for others has taxed you beyond what you can bear. Maybe you are hitting, or are past, your limits, and the you who is showing up is not who you wish to be sharing. She keeps threatening to take center stage, and it’s harder to push her off to the wings. She refuses to remain the understudy. Her tenacity is flummoxing you more and more.

It’s time to look her square in the eyes and take her seriously. God does. He’s already there with her in the wings, waiting for you.

This is the astonishing welcome of the good news of Jesus. Not that we welcomed him, but that he welcomes us. Every actor within—the ones we approve of and the ones we don’t—is held in his embrace as one. He brings our wholeness to us. And in our limited, but wholehearted, ways, we can then collaborate with him in welcoming wholeness in our world.

 

Posted by k2mulder in Encouragement, 4 comments

Dealing with Internal Intimidation

I redirected my energies from my contemplative work into hospitality mid-April. It was to be a two-week hijacking, then a return to the regular route of days. But the pressures and demands didn’t relent. The attempts to incorporate new ideas and habits from classes, the convergence of three young lives summering with me, and some major emotional upheavals suctioned me into silence on my blog. Daily I remembered you and prayed, aching to write, yet simultaneously adding another daily granule of doubt or criticism to the weighted blanket of shame encasing me.

Shame casts imposing shadows and augments reality into mocking illusions. As a young girl I was intimidated by a rocking one-eyed shadow-giraffe glaring down from atop my curtain rod, daring me to foolishly mention it to my parents. I felt stupid for being afraid of it, and sure of being laughed at for speaking of it. So I remained silent, tense and paralyzed under the bedspread. I didn’t yet know the power that humbly laughing at yourself and sharing with others can have to dispel the thrall of fear and shame.

I’m throwing off my bedspread and padding over to you to tell you—I’ve been afraid to write again. The mocking voices inside wonder why I’m making such a big deal over this and try to squelch the importance of it. They leer at me saying nobody cares, no one needs to hear what I have to say—it won’t make a difference, and if you must say something why make a fool of yourself! Just slip under the radar and pretend nothing is happening—you just got busy, that’s all. This is how the enemy’s intimidation works on a soul whose safety is withdrawal and avoidance.

You need to hear it because I need to say it. Because you need to know there is someone else who is facing intimidation while moving forward into a big, exciting, terrifying calling with Jesus. You and I need to see light spill into this hidden dynamic of pressing on in faith and call it like it is: intimidation is real. Its expression can come in a myriad of ways depending on your particular triggers and personality, but it will come. If it silences you like it does me, raise your voice more and let safe people know what ghouls are dancing on your internal landscape. If big-eyed giraffes are ghosting through it, making you feel small and stupid, open the door to those who can provide the brilliant light of truth, hope, and grace. Its strength overpowers the shadows that loom in near-darkness.

Bright Sun

I told my spiritual director about the oppression I felt, and she noted that intimidation only works on those things you hold precious. As we explored the various circumstances where I had felt intimidated, I could see exactly what she meant. I opened the door to her and this realization swung it wide open. In the blaze, the fears have fizzled out, and I can move again. I’ve been avidly writing every day since.

Writing to you is precious to me. I marvel at how God meets me in it, feeding me, then taking it and feeding you, like miraculously feeding five thousand with two fish. His is not the way of stinginess, but the way of multiplication. His is not the way of oppression, but freedom. His is not the way of looming shadows, but of bracing light. Let’s all give our little fishes to Jesus to stretch them further than we ever thought possible—hopeful faithfulness begetting a feast of wonder in full sunlight.

 

Starting next week:

One of the things I explored in my summer class was the discipline of noticing. It’s a practice that I have found really opens my heart to encountering God. Just yesterday, after sending the boys to their school bus, I sat on the front stoop and stared at the dripping plants in our front garden. The water adhered to each in very distinct ways. I noticed how the growing things were all in arches and umbrels, no squares and straight lines. Their flexibility helped them bear the sudden weight of drops without breaking. Not only was it beautiful, but there was wisdom wrapped in the display decorated with water pearls. It encouraged me into flexibility for the day, rather than rigid accomplishment that often fractures under the pressure of unexpected changes. The day felt like a gift rather than a burden because I encountered God in this noticing.

This kind of gift exists in your everyday as well. I’m inviting you into a community exploration on Instagram of these gifts over the next few weeks. It doesn’t have to be long, deep, or fancy, just one thing you notice with a quick picture and however much you want to write about it. I’ll be posting a list at the beginning so we have a focus each day, but it’s open to whatever you notice and however you meet God. I will post the topics on IG in about a week, and thereafter anyone can join in with your posts on that topic with the hashtag #noticeGod and tagging me @writerkimberleymulder. So follow me on IG @writerkimberleymulder, and watch to join in! I will write more in my next post when I kick off this IG practice. I am so curious to see what God has waiting for us to feed our souls! Shalom to you!

Posted by k2mulder in Courage, 0 comments

How Do I Know God Loves Me, Personally? My Journey to Knowing I Am Loved

I bided my time as she squeezed me tightly to her, warmth rising at the closeness, and stared listlessly at the jumble of envelopes, scratched notes, and flyers askew on the counter, a lone pen lolling against the backsplash. Punctuating a smile on my face to meet her shining welcome as she released me back to my own presence, I felt relieved with the return of the little gulf that buoyed me to safety.

I keep to myself. It’s less awkward, less dramatic, and less demanding. I don’t feel immobilized like I do tight up in someone else’s power, even when it’s a loving power. Smothered is the word I used when I talked to myself or God. Intimacy seemed more like an oil slick spreading its sticky poison to blanket the sea’s life into suffocated death. And so I evaded, hid, sometimes flew but never far because, well, that’s just not the right way to respond to love, is it? The ebb and flow of what I was comfortable with licked at my heels, threatening to mire my feet. I could not give myself totally to the warmth, to the power, to the discomfort. It was just too much, and I was just too little.

feet running at waters edge for www.kimberleymulder.com

Photo by Genevieve Dallaire on Unsplash

The safest place that was not too far nor too close, was near. I could share a room toiling on a project or reading a book, ensconced where I had only to look up to control my participation. I loved stories because I could feel it all, yet remain outside it. When my tears rose at the suffering of a favorite character or the sacrificial love of a good father, I could close the book. There they remained, at arms’ length where I could flip the page on tenderness, sliding it into place, staid on the page.

The same was true at church. I found God in a book. His character was intriguing, complex, and so right all the time! Every page I flipped gave me something new to consider, to follow, to do. I loved how I could select a passage and tie it to another and follow God’s thoughts. How loving of God to share his thoughts with me, in a book, no less! A book I could open at will—and close. God was delivered to me in such a manageable package.

Included in this package were lessons on how to view myself. I’d use these passages as a mirror, turning it to catch the right angle to see my reflection, but instead I saw a distortion. I knew I was good—I did good things all the time, in fact, I rather thought I was pretty good at being good. Yet the mirror consistently made me look like a freak with narrow, tiny eyes and a ballooned jaw. That didn’t seem like a caring gift from this know-it-all God! I figured I couldn’t find the right angle, and carried on assuredly. Of course God loved me, how could he not? I didn’t look like that weird reflection!

The package came with a brochure, provided by my church. Each page highlighted a people group: the remote hill tribe in a jungled Asian country, the veil of hijabs across the Middle East, the bundles of poor overflowing slums, the angry youth caught in the webbed blocks of large cities. The title of the brochure was—This is Who God Loves. None of them went to church with me. And if I loved God then I would go to whom he loves! Isn’t that why he tucked the brochure in and gave me a love of travel?

It wasn’t until many years later that I could identify the empty middle in this belief. I believed God’s love was always directed away from me, to those who need it more. My church knew little of God’s love, always passing the plate on piously, in false deference to those more needy, in essence saying, “We’re good, we don’t need it, here you take it, you need it.” It fit well with my evasive shyness and my gloried goodness. Like a boulder in a stream, I diverted love to either side, believing I did not need the water myself, that it would even be selfish to take what was meant for others. 

I took this package of God’s love in the suitcase of my heart to unpack and give away. Only, when I got there I discovered they were already fed. I was merely bringing more of the same. Even worse, my prepackaged meal of goodies did not satisfy even my own hunger. For too long I had snacked on candy, getting by. I needed a meal. So God starved me.

I think it is at the brink of realizing our great and real hunger for God that we often turn away because it is terrifying to see this massive canyon in our hearts and hear echoes of our inadequacy bounce from rock to rock. For a year and a half, I stood and paced that canyon, calling and calling. I tried my books, but they did not satisfy. I tried all the good things, prayer and song, but they tumbled like pebbles into the canyon. My spirit was a starving mountain goat while my body was a rebelling animal, unable to digest food and dropping weight as if it were water in a fall. Hunger was my constant companion and my greatest enemy. I did all the right things and they did nothing.

goat looking over canyon for www.kimberleymulder.com

Photo by Harry Burk on Unsplash

My salvation came slowly through the ministration of she who had always held me close. I could not push her away, for I needed her to hold me together. She literally bound my red, pulsing side every day, touching my pain with her tenderness. A mother now myself, I know her suffering was greater than my own. My fears of being stifled by love were unfounded. Her smile was authentically warm, she did not want to stifle me, she merely wanted to love me. In my weakness, I let myself be loved.

My uncle came and prayed with me, but not the endearing supplicant, hands folded, eyes cast down to the linoleum floor as he sat in the green sterilized faux-leather chair across the room. No, he stood, two feet planted as he leaned on my bed, his warm, broad hand on my chilled shoulder, and he told God how his heart broke to see me suffering, his tears manifesting the words in real drip time, and he asked God to break in and heal me.

Though nothing changed dramatically in my body that moment, my spirit calmed and realized that it had the power to enter that canyon and go find food. It was equipped with hooves and a nose that could snuffle out nourishment even in hard places. I began the descent, at last unlocked from the paralysis at the top of the impossible. I, that is my spiritual self, started to do that which I was made for, to go find that which I hungered for. No suitcase this time, no package in my hands, just the gnawing desire in the belly of my soul.

I almost settled for fodder in a barn on the way. For a time I ate at a church like the one I grew up in. It gave me the comfortable satisfaction of feeling full, but the longer I spent there, the more I realized the food was the same and sat in my stomach like a brick. I foraged further up the valley. Right on the river’s edge, I found a wild pasture of a church. There were some familiar plants but also new ones I had never tested. I was afraid I’d eat something that would make me sick, but I also felt satisfied and alive when I ate in that spacious place. The attraction of the semi-wild place eventually corralled me. My emaciated soul nibbled, then chewed, then feasted on abundant life.

Jesus was no longer good to follow, to strive after, instead he sat with me and became real to me, even in my errors, even in my pain, even in physical ways. He wrapped his arms around me and gave me an absolutely real experience of how much he loves me, personally. We are friends, and I can honestly say, no longer embarrassed or unsure, I love him and he loves me. 

My way in to intimacy with God was through hunger, a hunger greater than fear, just like my need for loving care had to be greater than my fear of being smothered. It was only upon entering in that I could see that I was loved, not trapped.

This was a trip that goodness could not make, for goodness relies on knowing what to do and how; it’s controlled and measured like a tour guide following an itinerary. As long as I followed the guide, I couldn’t make a wrong turn, I could always turn the page and find out what’s next. I didn’t realize that I was holding the wrong guide until I stood on the rim, dizzy with my deprivation. Not good enough to figure this out, to solve my hunger, I had to off-road my spirit. I had to embrace the unknown, the frightening, the hope that there was something for me at the bottom and enough to sustain me along the way. I didn’t know how to scale a canyon wall, but I would languish and die on the edge if I didn’t try. Hunger led the way, and love welcomed me to the feast.

Posted by k2mulder in Beloved, Hunger, Spiritual Formation, 2 comments

Who are you listening to?

I have recently been thinking a lot about voices—speaking up, listening to them, hearing God, and more. Even without our media-laden society, it is difficult to know who to listen to. I’ve been studying the explosion of popular preaching in post-Revolutionary America, and there were literally thousands of itinerant riders seeking audiences throughout the back country of the 1790s-1820s, all with their own version of understanding the Bible. Many a conversion happened, and many were from idea to idea, rather than simply to Jesus.

Fast forward to today, and we have the same thing happening but in light-speed time as tweets ping, posts slither through cyberspace, and multiple ideas bombard our minds many times per second. It is a wise thing to have some solid barriers and filters in place as we engage with our technological idea marketplace. I am not going to spell those out (in this post anyway), but wanted to nudge your thoughts into what would be appropriate for you, along with a story of how my inability to hold up my safeguards wreaked some havoc in my life. But then, how God mercifully came to my aid, through my friends’ real prayers. This is a link to a post I wrote for anchoredvoices.com, where I contribute regularly. I hope it helps you navigate this online world a little more wisely than I!

“I think I need a lock screen on my phone with the words “You, bleary-eyed one, do not touch this! Danger!”—on a red background, in bold.

cell phone hello

Photo by Tyler Lastovich from Pexels

Have you ever regretted your early morning, nonchalant scroll through social media? I certainly have. Just this past week, I spent three days removing the shrapnel of allowing the many feet of Instagram and Facebook trample on the landmines inside me. You know, those parts of yourself that are weak, sensitive to comparison and criticism, your perennial Achilles heel. That simple, foolish, not-thought-through action loosed a storm of doubt within. As my coffee perked, I struggled to gain ground and fight back.”

Read more at anchoredvoices.com.

 

Posted by k2mulder in Anchored Voices Posts, 0 comments

How to Unpack Your Burdens with Jesus

“Come to me, you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your soul. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matt. 11:28-30

It is hard to receive these life-giving words into our hearts, despite our desperate “I want it!” Why?

There may be many reasons, but mine is most often an unwillingness to unpack my dirty underwear. Let me explain.

I am currently facing too many assignments, far more than I can accomplish in a day than is realistic even if I were not tired, and I am weary from weeks of responsibilities, challenges, and new things. I have deep problems to pray about that require time and attention and energy and intentionality—four things I feel I don’t have. But God does have these. And he is the one that called me into all these labors. So, it’s not that I am to ditch my backpack of calling, job, roles, and labors. All I can do at the moment is labor under it into God’s presence.

So I come, Jesus, I come as I am—overwhelmed, frustrated, tired, and dismayed. And before I confess the various sins that are apparent here, I simply sit with you in this morass, my backpack on but in your presence, for to wrest my burdens from me now would be an act of denial and unacceptance. I don’t want to be too quick to separate myself from something I have allowed to define me. I would only succeed in pretending the pack isn’t there. I’d simply be ignoring it like the so-called elephant in the room. So I sit with the weight of it on my back, acknowledging I’m carrying it.

You see me. You see my discomfort, the exhaustion in my posture, the sweat on the sides of my face and sticking in my hair. You see my desire to do what you’ve asked of me, you see that it is love that first moved me up this mountainside with a pack too heavy. You see my self-condemnation that I am worn out, and I am only at the base of the mountain, my disbelief that I will ever climb the entire thing. You see my worry that I will not figure out how to do this. You see my judgment of my insufficiency—and that that is actually a judgment of you. Now, I’m angry. Angry that you have not equipped me better, angry that you should demand so much of me, angry that there is a cost to my family and to my time spent doing things I like. There is fear that all ahead is dogged drudgery instead of the joy that first led me to take all this on. There is fear that the joy you’ve unearthed for me the last few years is now going to suffocate under a massive pile of responsibility and trial.

I’ve come to you and I’m unpacking my bag. I am not confessing or asking forgiveness—yet. That will come after I’ve unpacked the burden of these emotions and thoughts. They tumble helter skelter about me as I audaciously toss each crumpled emotion out of the pack like dirty underwear. You wanted me to come to you and unpack my burden? Well, here you go, the unedited, unpacked me.

And still you are there, unoffended, patient, watching me without incredulity or judgment or bated breath. You knew what I had packed in my bag. You knew I’d be at this point on my journey and you met me here. You aren’t looking away, embarrassed and uncomfortable. Rather, you are relieved, glad, welcoming. You get up from where you’ve been listening, reach for my hand with a smile, and invite me to keep walking.

“But what about my stuff? Aren’t we going to deal with that? Shouldn’t I pick it up?”

“No, leave it there. Let’s walk.”

Two people walking up hill

Photo by Juan Pablo Arenas from Pexels

 

Posted by k2mulder in Being Present, Spiritual Formation, 2 comments

Courage Amid Worries

Four a.m. is a sly hour. Sometimes I can slide past it in oblivion, other times it wakes in my sub-conscious as a bright new dawn, a photo-bomber of my picture perfect slumber. Last night, it shed its camouflage, and grinned widely at me, enjoying the time to toy with my mind. This is the hour that is raw; the vulnerable, naked time. It is as if all the swaddling comes off my psyche, and I’m left in the crib flailing and wailing (if awake), or completely at peace (if asleep). Honestly, this hour intimidates me.

Last night was one of those unpleasant rousings where the ugly thoughts come out to haunt and ridicule. At this time of night, I’m not laced into focus, my mind is not nimble, and the shrouding darkness leaves a perfect place for me to be ambushed. Unguarded, unfocused, and vulnerable, I am rather like an infant who cannot control herself, let alone protect herself.

For an hour in the dark, I ricocheted between what I call “worrying prayer” and brainstorming solutions. “Worrying prayer” is babbling all my thoughts, like a litany of desperation, without pause or presence. Essentially, I am bombarding God’s ear with my worry. He is gracious and allows me this, but I have learned that I cannot possibly receive an answer in this state. Have you ever tried to talk reason, or love, into someone wound up like a top in their worried spiraling? It’s like speaking to an infant who doesn’t talk yet. He or she really doesn’t have the capacity to take it in. Likewise, worry occupies all the available circuits to take in these words of comfort or guidance, so nothing can attach to brake the spiral.

I have taught my children to pray in these moments, to bend whatever power of thought they have toward the eternal light of Jesus’ love, to spend their minutes remembering and calling for his help. They have told me of numerous times that Jesus has come and settled them, even within nightmares. This is what I was attempting to do at four o’clock in the morning.

In between ricochets, I kept telling myself to remember that this is a vulnerable time for my spirit, that I have an enemy who wants to distract and dismay, and to recall what the Lord has been speaking to me regarding these things I’m worrying about. Essentially — Be still, Kimberley! Hold your plank! (See last week’s post about holding your plank to develop courage in stillness.)

As I spun around again and again, these internal reminders acted as a visual anchor to my spinning soul, like watching your parent standing patiently at the side of the spinning ride. Even though my mind continued its circuits, I knew peace awaited me. When the mental gyrations slowed enough for me to set foot on the solid ground of truth, I looked intensely for Jesus. I needed my woozy brain to lock into peace.

If you’ve ever gotten off a merry-go-round, a tilt-a-whirl, or any other spinning amusement park ride, you know that finding a focal point for your eyes will ease your head back to stability. As my whirling mind slowed and moved tentatively forward, I asked Jesus for a word, a feeling, something to help ground me and keep me from orbiting back out into anxiety.

Immediately, he gave me a picture. I saw him, not in great detail but definite in presence, stooping low to look me in the eye, motioning with his hand to keep my eyes locked on his. We were entering a narrow passageway in a cave.

I suffer a mild claustrophobia at times. I don’t like narrow caves. Once, in Colorado, I balked at one, almost returning to the surface and waiting for the others. But the guide told me its dimensions, and my husband and he would go before and after me, talking with me to keep me calm. Knowing the length made it manageable; knowing I had help made it possible. I did it, which helped me in future times when I faced a similar challenge.

To add exquisite depth to this story, the reason I was in this precarious state at four in the morning was because we are taking financial risks at the Lord’s leading. I am way outside my comfort zone. Our finances are tight, and likely getting tighter. Cave analogy, anyone?

Not only now for my sleep-addled brain high on adrenaline, but also for the time to come with its consequences regarding our daring choices and the looming “what-ifs”, Jesus gave me exactly what I needed: “Lock your eyes on me. I will lead you through this tight space.”

This is a word that is especially rich personally for the present moment, but its reverberations stretch into eternity. Not only is he speaking peace and courage into my present heart palpitations, but he comforts with the promise that as I follow him through these tight financial places at his bidding, like a camel going through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24), my future is secure (Matthew 19:29).

If you, like me, are feeling the pull of a worry spiral, expend your energy on remembering who God is, what He has said to you personally, and focus all your attention on Him. When a moment settles, ask Him to fill it with His presence, a word, a picture, some grace to latch on to.

May you find the ground beneath you,

As you step off the worry-go-round,

Focused amid the trembling,

Sure, maybe not of your steps,

But of His care,

His purpose,

His Love,

Presence,

Peace.

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Courage, Spiritual Formation, 0 comments

Courage Gains Strength in Stillness

Nascent courage feels much like a sprig of hope, slenderly strong in the cold earth rising to the call of the white light above. Fragile, yet powerful, in its miniscule multiplication, cell upon cell of mitochondrial factories.

Scoff not at the small beginning. Trample not the greening of an idea under the solstice of God. He rises, like the sun, for just such a reason. He bends his power, as the sun sends its rays, to this greening earth to call forth these courageous beginnings.

Sometimes a seed lies long in the dark earth, then someone “happens” to kick a clod away, just enough to make the difference between dormant dream and lifting life. When hope has lain buried for long, in order for courage to rise and respond, our hope needs to be called forth. What draws us out of our sheltered shells is, most often, love.

Without love we will lack courage. So, if you are at a crossroads and struggling to be courageous, pause and consider whether you have lost your sense of belovedness. Consider whether you have been pushing forward out of duty rather than in response to love. Are you being led by love, or pushed by fear? When we push forward because we are afraid, we are reacting, not discerning; we are controlling and manipulating, not receiving and moving in peace. This is not courage; this is fear.

Courage is refusing to react to fearful circumstances with desperate action; instead, it is rooting action to burrow into love, scaring the fear away with tenacious trust.

Suppose that, if it could, the greening tendril sprouting from the mud should react to an onslaught of icy rain by moving, or quickly throwing a shelter over itself? It would die because it was no longer in the ground, nor getting the nourishing water. That onslaught, terrifying as it is, actually feeds it. When we react in fear, we could be refusing the very water our courage needs in order to grow.

Courage is bracing our hopes with Love. It is the action of choosing to be patiently still in the storm, attentively focused on the leading of He who loves us. Uncertainty could be your storm. Attack, need, conflict, or busyness could be your storm. Regardless of the nature of the storm you are in, refuse to be swept up in it, refuse to be tangled. Set your mind and heart on agreement with the Lord – which can only be love. Focus your attention, not on the solution to your particular dismay, but on the Lord’s love for you. Dig into it and stay there. From this courageous place, dug into Love, you will receive strength and understanding of what to do and when.

If you have ever held a plank exercise, you will understand the strengthening action of stillness. In this exercise, you have only your hands and toes on the floor supporting your body stretched as if it were a straight board head to toe over the floor. It requires, and develops, a great deal of active strength to hold this still pose for very long.

So, if you are weathering a storm around your just-sprouted hopes, hold your plank! Brace yourself! Be still, knowing God.

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging…

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:1-3,10 NIV)

For now, you will feel the pain of holding it, you will not notice the growth in your muscle of courage, but afterward, you will not be uprooted, you will be strong, focused, and courageous.

In my own life, I have had to do this repeatedly.

In my twenties, crisis pulled me out of the international ministry life I had just embarked upon. In the stillness of my sickness, I struggled to know God’s love in my experience. He was there, but the strain of spiritual and emotional endurance, like burning muscles, screamed for my attention and often drowned out the soft touches of love. When the assault of illness ended, I wobbled out with a weak, but healed, body, and a battered, but tenacious spirit. 

That was twenty years ago, this August. Two years before that (twenty-two years ago), I had followed Jesus out of my plans to be a musician and into his plans to put me in ministry. At the time, the shape of my ministry was teaching English in Ukraine. But after my illness, it dissolved and I could not see it. The clarity had shattered and melted into the ground where it nourished my life, but remained unseen. For twenty years I’ve known it rests there, but I’ve been unable to draw it to the surface into a solid shape.

Two years ago or so, after many efforts to draw this latent desire into life (out of fear that I had no purpose), Jesus drew me back into stillness – for a year! I dug into him, and held my plank. Unlike other times of waiting, this time was warm with joy, rich with experiences with Jesus, and had a sense of incubating new life. From it new ideas germinated from old loves that had lain buried so deeply that only the Lord knew where to find them.

Just like the plank exercise works on your core muscles, the stillness of this time developed a core courage upon which I am growing new strength. For the last year, I have looked many of my fears in the eye. Fears like, “Who cares if I write?” “I’m going to face critics; I don’t think I can.” “Am I jeopardizing my kids’ futures with the sacrifices my choices are making?” And on and on. Through many interactions, Jesus lead me forward against these fears. At one key point, I realized that I would eternally regret not trying. That was a decisive blow to many of my fears and cleared the path for me.

He is leading me into the impossible, which is another name for miraculous. That ministry which dissolved into the ground of my life twenty-two years ago, He is powerfully inviting forth with his sunshine, his call of love. And it’s not the shape of a singular plant, like I thought it would be. It is an entire field! From it, he is coaxing a writing ministry, a vocation, and one specific international opportunity.

In a month, my family of five will be going with a team from our church to central Asia to minister to ministers. There is a retreat for missionaries in central Asia where we will minister to the kids, while their parents’ spirits are encouraged and empowered in the adults’ sessions. This caring for the spirits of the “frontline” leaders is exactly what Jesus has called into life in my vocational field.

It is also an opportunity that we have prayed for, for twelve years! We adopted our oldest from this country and planned and prayed about taking her back when she was twelve to sixteen. Not only do we get to delve into her ethnic background and culture, but we get to invest in it!

To answer this call, we’ve had to exercise courage financially, by sacrificing, and by asking for help. Again, love leads us into this, and we ask that you listen to Jesus to see if He is asking you to help us with your donation and your prayers.

If so, please donate at gofundme.com using your credit card (this is not tax-deductible) or send checks (this is tax-deductible) to:

Vineyard Columbus

Attn: Jackie Williams, International Ministries

6000 Cooper Road

Westerville, OH 43081

Include a note (but not on the memo line): Mulders, Central Asia Trip.

I will be sharing here, on the blog, during the trip what God is doing, so be sure to check in for pictures and stories! We are so excited to see and be a part of what God is doing there! Thank you for being a part of our little story.

In what areas do you want to “hold your plank”, maintaining a stillness locked into God’s love? How has love called you into something scary and how are you responding? Have you been courageous because of love? Share your stories in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Courage, Spiritual Formation, 0 comments

When Fear Holds Hunger in Its Teeth

Last week I wrote about how I discern the voice of fear and the voice of Love. This week we are starting our month-long focus on “Hunger” and how it pertains to a centered life. I am sharing from my personal experience and hope that it stimulates your hunger for God!

I have written the following in truth and love, especially for my heritage. It is not glamorous, in fact, it may be painful to some. But I am trying to illumine what God has shown me as He has wrought more freedom into my life. I pray for your freedom as you read.

I grew up in a church community that valued, rightly so, giving and sacrificing for those less fortunate. Many of us were immigrants or children of immigrants with stories of making do and frugality forming our families. There were a lot of unsung, hard-working heroes in our family tree.

But somehow, in the trenches of making a living in a new land, the hunger that everyone had come with became buried under the work of our hands, the ache of the labour, and the strains of limitation. And it was buried in our spirits too.

Though hunger for freedom, for more, for a better life had driven our grandparents across the Atlantic ocean, that hunger went underground as they built their new life. It became inappropriate to want more in life: whether in the making of money or thirsting for God. As we became guardians of the status quo, God felt more distant. Like a knot of hunger in the stomach, our spirits hardened.

We were self-righteous in our mandated contentment. There were whispers of judgment regarding other churches, born of fear. We didn’t understand what they were experiencing as we heard of healings and changed lives. We were fearful of it, fearful of the powerful hunger that drove those people, not realizing that we had the same hunger held underground by our fear.

Only through resentment did we notice our hunger: other churches were growing, why weren’t we?

To desire more was evil ambition and arrogance. Desire was a fearful thing! For those who paid attention to the hunger in their spirits, there were few communal tables at which to gather. By God’s grace, there were a few, and life grew there. I ate with them, I hungered with them, and God met us.

We must allow ourselves to feel our hunger, to stand in it, not run away from it or bury it. It is the gnawing center of life in which we receive the bread of Life. God would not have given us hunger if it did not serve His purposes. That goes for bodily hunger as well as soul hunger. As we are filled, we are empowered. Motion can follow.

Sometimes we must allow our spiritual hunger to push us to immigrate to new places.

The word “desire” has forward movement inherent within it. It is the motion of attraction, like two magnets drawing together. God gave us desire to move us toward him. Desire is a gift, not a curse.

Our fears must not be allowed to control our hunger. The only fear God gave us is the fear, the awe and wonder, of Him; all others are hounds from our enemy. When we put hunger in control of fear it will eat up obstacles in its ravenous power. Let your hunger for God loose, feed it, and fear will cower!

The truly hungry do bold things that they would never do when satisfied. Dissatisfaction can be the Lord’s invitation into the bold changes of His kingdom.

Yes, we need to develop contentment in our souls, but there is a magnet in discontent that will pull us there.  The uneasy, discontented sensation of hunger is the invitation to the soul to find its true food.

In Luke 10, when Mary dropped her duties as host (much to her sister Martha’s consternation!) to go listen to Jesus, she was giving reign to her spirit’s hunger trusting it would find its satiation in the words of this visitor, Jesus.

If you suffer a squelched spirit do not settle in a false contentment saying “This is all there is, I am okay here.” This is where our hunger helps us discern between good and best. God wants our BEST which is good for us, but we often settle for what is GOOD thinking it’s the best. Fear wiggles into power ever so subtly in this situation. Fear says to the squelched spirit: “This is good enough, who am I to want more? I am denying God’s gracious gifts if I want more.” Rather, admit your hunger, and tell God. He is delighted to meet you in your hunger! It is through our hunger that Jesus works to reconcile us to himself. For it is His great desire to be reconciled with us.

On earth Jesus’ hunger fueled his every action. His hunger for reconciliation enabled him to say “No” to temptation in the desert, endure the whips, spears and nails, fit infinity into finity, feed five thousand with five loaves and two fish, and befriend and disciple many in three years. What will your hunger enable you to do as you are filled to all fullness with the bread of life?

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Encouragement, Hunger, 0 comments

A Perfectionist’s Story Discerning the Voices of Fear and Love

“Perfect love drives out fear, for fear has to do with punishment.” 1 Jn. 4:18 NIV

The type of fear John speaks of is the paralyzing, cowering kind that all people feel in the face of threats, violence, abuse and other evils. It is an oppressive, jailing kind that arises from the deceitful one, Satan. But Jesus came to free the captive (Isaiah 61:1).

The deceiver tailors his language of fear to his listener. To some he speaks in soft tongues, to others in sharp. The point of anything fear says is to control and bully, to keep the hearer from knowing freedom and love.

Fear bullies with sweet whispers. Fear seduces with sharp commands. Fear persuades with half truths. Fear controls with comfort. Fear is charismatic, a force of character that draws people to follow him into bondage. And he uses content of every kind under the sun: from self-perception to global annihilation, from sore throats to getting it all done.

Nothing but the whole truth, unvarnished and blazing gently in one’s being, will conquer fear. Before it, like wax melting under a candle, our rigid prisons fall away. To each of our personal realities God’s truth of love shines deeply into our personal convictions, changing and shaping them into action, releasing the prison gates of fear.

To the perfectionist’s ear, fear speaks in “shoulds”. He holds up the beautiful goal and desire for perfection, knowing that that IS what we are destined for, and says: “Look, that’s your goal, go get it! You should do this, then that, then that. You definitely shouldn’t waste your time on unproductive things. Do this…and this…and this.” The perfectionist climbs the mountain of “shoulds”, not realizing that it is made of pebbles rolling under her feet and she is getting no closer. Instead, she is wearing out, despairing, discouraged and unsure. Fear now holds her tired heart in captivity.

I am a perfectionist, and the above is my story. However, the story is not finished.

Into this captivity Jesus stepped. His foot light, he brought water, a pillow, His presence. He sat with me in my captivity until I had rested enough that I could listen. Then He began to speak, counteracting the poisonous thoughts I had been listening to for years, and when I was stronger, He invited me to get up and walk with Him. He began to show me things I had not noticed before, He ignited joy and peace in my heart. For a time, He refused to answer my request for a purpose, knowing that that would send me back up the mountain of pebbles.

After an uncomfortably long time, in which I finally found comfort, He invited me forward with Him. He never used the word “should”, always “let’s”. As He issued His invitation to me into His purposes He said: “You will go out with joy and be led forth in peace.” (Isaiah 55:12).

I am, literally, today, starting three major things to which He has led me. One of which is the series on this blog on “Ten Attitudes of Heart to Cultivate for a ‘Mary’ Life”!

Just to show you how personal He gets as He leads you, I will share the picture He gave me this morning as I listened to Him regarding these initiatives. First off, you have to know that I LOVE snow, playing in the snow, skiing, skating, all things snow. In that, I am a true Canadian:) In the picture, I saw myself as a child getting ready to go play in the snow, and in my excitement I wasn’t putting on my hat or zipping up my coat. He, Dad, came over and put my hat on, zipped up my coat to make sure I was prepared and then blessed me with a twinkle in his eye and said “Have fun!”.

I have been listening to Emily P. Freeman’s podcast “The Next Right Thing” (which I highly recommend!) and in episode three, she asks: “Are you being led by love or pushed by fear?” Over the last year, this has been especially helpful in my discernment process. It helped me recognize that a job I almost took was motivated by my fear of our future finances, not His leading. It helped me recognize that during this time of discernment, courage means taking the hours to go deep with God, to slowly process all the things He is showing me, and trust that my not getting a paycheck will not bring us to bankruptcy.  It has been eleven months so far without my pay check and we have always had enough, even as we moved to a house with a higher house payment per month!

For me, the voice of fear says excitedly and urgently, like a happy friend: “You should do this because you are so able. You should do this to secure your future!” But if I don’t comply my happy friend’s voice slides into a menacing, condemning voice: “You’ll never amount to anything. You aren’t doing enough to bless the world. You have been given so much and you just squander it. How can you call yourself a leader? A good mom?” In both voices, the identifying characteristic is a push to perform and prove.

Whereas being led by love, the voice is a gentle friend, welcoming and pleased to be with me, regardless of what I do. Love’s voice invites, converses. Love says: “This is the way, walk in it, and I will walk with you.” If I don’t comply, love waits.

I’ve had many months now of discerning the voice of fear and the voice of Love as I have waited on the Lord to direct my steps. A desire of mine from as far back as I can remember is to get my Master’s degree. I’ve started one, I’ve tested the waters with a course for another, I’ve perused many catalogs. Every time there’s been a check in my spirit at some point on the road – a lack of peace about the focus, a revelation that just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should (there’s that “should” again!).

This time the Lord is inviting me to get my Master’s in Spiritual Formation and Direction. It isn’t a should at all, but an “I get to!” I know deeply that this is the right direction, partly because I realize that if I don’t make the attempt and join the Lord I will, literally, forever regret it. All my previous endeavors I was preparing to make do when all along, deep down I knew that I was cut out for this work and had lacked the courage to try. He has been persistently showing and telling me that He wants me living abundantly with Him in the purposes He has for me. He wants the BEST for me, not for me to simply make do.

Are you being led by Love, or pushed by fear? Only you and the Lord can identify the voice of fear in your life. It will speak differently to you than me. It will take courageous, deep work to identify and admit to listening to the voice of fear. But I promise, it is so well worth it. God made you for living deeply, joyfully and truthfully, not quickly, shallowly and fearfully.

Posted by k2mulder in Encouragement, Spiritual Formation, 2 comments