Already Included #32 – Greatness

By Sarah Nyhan

I’m still so amazed at how much my thinking has changed since encountering this “already included” gospel. Looking back I realize I have lived decades from my mind, in a religious fog. I was content to bulldoze forward in the same way even after believing this “already included” message. You know, start setting up metaphorical tents of worship to God and allow myself to be consumed with theological navel-gazing per se.

I was caught off guard and frankly a bit disappointed when in contrast I felt Holy Spirit leading me toward first re-entering real life and real relationships. I am slowly becoming more at peace with this shift.

God knows my passions and desires, I am confident that a time will come when doors are opened again for deep-diving into a theological buffet. But for now I feel like I am leaving the religious bunker I’ve been buried in for at least the past two decades and am literally learning how to be human again. First things first. Living what I now know versus accumulating more knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

This can feel overwhelming some days. It feels like the bottom has fallen out from under me. Suddenly my road map for life has all but completely disintegrated. What is left is very good, but there is a lot of work in rebuilding everything else.

At times it feels like I am a newborn relearning everything. Or a traveler to a brand new world. Mostly exciting, but there are also times of grief and fear. It seems like there will never be enough time to get everything back in balance. Sometimes even there is the temptation to just shut up and go back to the old way in order to feel some sense of normalcy.

Most of my decision-making process has completely changed. The more you hang on for this ride, the deeper the healing. I am amazed every day at realizing how much our spiritual beliefs filter down to our decision-making processes in even the seemingly most mundane daily choices. I don’t want to get side-tracked on that subject by providing a slew of examples. My point is only that without realizing it, I had built an entire destructive way of being based on a lot of lies.

Again, it was all I knew. There is deep mourning for all that has been lost along the way. But I have to be patient with myself. I have to forgive myself. God is not upset with me. He is only ever for me and my healing. For my benefit and enjoyment! Not for His ego. All I can do is in this moment and moving forward.

As I’ve mentioned before, the redefinition of my values has been a huge part of this journey. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that as an American, we generally place a high value on “greatness”. And yet I have found myself redefining greatness in much less superficial terms than before.

I don’t know if he did, but is Jeff Bezos great if he cheated on his wife? Is Steve Jobs great if he treated his first daughter as if she was second-class? My point is that I think we as Americans have gradually shifted to confuse fame, wealth, genius, attractiveness, and productivity for greatness. Even in Christian circles.

I am learning a new definition of greatness. Quite frankly it has been an extremely painful process as everything I used to define myself by has been stripped away from me, much to my chagrin. But now I can see that greatness is first and foremost relational.

I am not being great if I am not treating myself well. I am not being great if I am not taking responsibility for my life, as much as I am able.

I am not being great if I am not treating others well. This goes way beyond our inner circle. And this again is a measured by what we have to give, not by what we don’t have to give.

Frankly, I gave of myself to others for so long that I had nothing much left to give anymore. I was so depleted after several decades that I feel like I am still in a state of triage; mainly because for more than two years I have been fighting the call to rest. Remember, we labor in vain unless the Lord is building. He gives His children rest.

I used to think greatness was all the things I could “do for God”. Now I see it differently. If God sees to involve me in participating with Him as He does something really cool, I’m still up for the adventure. However, now I see greatness as rather the degree of excellence of love and heart that I bring into each moment and each interaction.

As much as I like writing, words fail me to adequately capture all that I mean, but you know it in your heart and in your gut when you haven’t been great or haven’t experienced greatness from another.

I’ll be the first to say that I am not a “good person”, to use our previous terminology. I am ashamed of so many decisions and choices I made while operating under my previous value system. The weight of it all overwhelms me at times. Only God’s love and absolute lack of condemnation fuels me forward a significant amount of the time. Making each new moment more of a gift and opportunity to be better.

Excellence of love and heart will look different in each moment for each person. As an example, sometimes love might look like making time for someone; other times it may look like having to lovingly tell them that there are other things that require your time. This is a blessing in that noone posturing authority for ego or financial gain can trump Holy Spirit’s leading in your life. Yet, this is also challenging because there is no formula.

Excellence of love and heart requires you to be present and not check out of life and/or go in auto-pilot mode. This can feel painful as awareness of positive and negative feelings and desires surface and feel sharp like fire to a mind/heart/spirit that maybe has been numbed or pacified by distractions for decades.

Excellence of love and heart requires relationship with God and others. Constant relationship. Not just boxes to be checked on a to-do list. This isn’t an obligatory annual Christmas card to a distant relative.

But this also isn’t some weird call to join a cult. Or a condemning guilt-trip. This isn’t spending hours kneeling in prayer.

Only a reminder that God is not the Sunday service duty that some have reduced Him to. God is way more than that. Christ is IN you. We’re talking every breath of our being. Relationship is embracing our eternal adoption and not trying to do or figure daily life out on our own. Relationship is running to a welcoming Papa who never tires of our tears and celebrates all of our joys. God is personal. And when we realize that, we begin to stop objectifying people. We start speaking life and the love that organically overflows from us brings healing to others.

This isn’t complicated most of the time. This is a smile to the tired cashier. This is a hello to a friend. This is even enjoying a moment of nature in Creation. Being silly with a kid. Being diligent and honest in your dealing. Giving people freedom versus imprisioning them in our expectations/fantasies. This is paying our bills. This is making sure we eat foods that nourish our bodies. This is picking up our trash versus leaving it to be someone else’s problem.

What if the measure of how great we were was not how “right” our beliefs are, but how excellent our love and heart is? Not just knowing all the “right” things, but actually being a decent human being. Christians, this is the non-believers’ main complaint with us. I’m not advocating tolerance to the exclusion of truth. I’m just saying mainly to my fellow theology enthusiasts: people don’t care what we know until they know that we care.

Already Included #31 – You

By Sarah Nyhan

I think I know what Saul/Paul was doing for those first few years after his conversion. I think he had to go off and be by himself while everything he thought he knew fell away and was replaced by truth. Less of an intellectual exercise. More of a rebirth in the sense of so thouroughly experienced that every single cell is saturated with this new real life. Actually lived and alive versus simply conceptualized.

This is what has been happening with me. To use Paul Young’s analogy, I didn’t realize I had constructed and others had helped me build such a monstrosity of a facade. My entire identity was totally tied to what I did, what I had, and what I thought I knew. Versus truth. All of the facade is now being burned away.

I was ready to jump in and repeat the same old formula with this new-to-me “already included” knowledge. But I feel like God is saying, “No, baby girl. We’re going to do things totally different this time. I appreciate so much your heart and enthusiasm, but I have everyone else. What I want us to focus on for now, for this time, is YOU. You are important also. Your healing and wholeness is the priority right now. What eventually overflows will organically be shared with others in due time.”

This is TOTALLY different than the experience modeled for me by the church as an incorporated entity in society. What do most churches do that I have experienced? They have not been hospitals for the soul, even though they claim such. Instead they have been like labor camps. Oh sure, there is initial love-bombing if you are considered an outsider. But once you’ve converted then it’s all about what you can do for them, dressed up as what you can do for “god”. And then the only acceptable answer is: always more. To them, Jesus’ sacrifice was not enough; you also must die.

This is my new litmus test for truth: are you offering me anything? Are you invested in me as a person? Is relationship with me a priority? Or are you just doing the same ol’ dance with new clothes? You know the one. In its extreme form it looks like what we think of most televangelists. Although more subtle and maybe more insidious forms are likely manifesting in most local church entities. In my experience.

And although the damage is the same no matter the motivation, I suspect the great majority of pastors and preachers start out with absolutely fabulous intentions. I really believe that. Maybe even some seasoned folks still think this is the right way. I mean, it’s all they have ever known. Like me, it’s all that was ever modeled for them from the pulpit.

Though I suspect at some point, as I experienced, you encounter a crisis. If you pursue truth hard and long enough then you must eventually, even in short time, face a crisis. Where the religious machine fails and your heart has a choice to make. I can’t tell you what to do. That is between God and you. But eventually you’ll have a decision to make. Is your trust in the religious machine or is your trust truly in God?

And really, to be even more specific, is your trust in yourself or in God? Again, I never saw it that clearly in the beginning. But over and over and over, it’s been made clear to me that is the core problem. Religion says I am responsible. That I can’t really trust God all the way.

Let me tell you a story. A true story. The other day some people from the city came out to the property I manage. They wanted to cut some trees near the powerlines. Caught off guard, in the heat of the moment, I was convinced by the city workers to approve them completely removing the trees versus only trimming them. Later when I was not under their influence, I looked at the trees and regretted my approval. But I thought that it was too late to change my mind.

As I stressed about this, one day they entered the property while I was gone. However, the property owners just “happened” to also show up at the same time for a rare site visit. The property owners were able to speak with the city workers and save the trees. All without any help from me.

This is our God. Who knows that I mess up. And knows that I don’t know how to fix my mess up. And He cares for me. So He somehow makes the property owners show up at the last minute and save the trees. This is a God I can trust. To be way bigger than me.

This is the God that is interested in me. Not just what I can do. Not just what I can give. Whose priority is relationship with me. As long as it takes. Not so that I can do anything for Him.

I was reminded this week of the verse in the Bible where it talks about a good man leaving an inheritance for his family. Not the other way around. Who among us has even ever experienced that? With our biological or church parents?

And again, I don’t think most know any better. Just passing on what was passed to them.

But how different would it look if we cared more about healing the person and being in relationship with the person versus setting them up to be another cog in the religious machine? Versus stripping them of everything they can possibly give? Fleecing them. Until they can’t take it anymore and run away out of desperation. For their lives.

All I am saying is there is another way. All things work for good. We get there one way or another. If not in this life, then I am sure we will see clearly during whatever comes after. But why wait that long? We can choose life now. Jesus came not to build another religious machine. He came to give us life, and life more abundant!!! Right now. The kingdom of heaven is at hand – right now. Jesus came and showed us what we have been missing all along. What is available to us right now. Without having to jump through hoops of performance or poverty in all its various forms.

You absolutely will encounter loads and loads and loads and loads of trouble. But it will be different trouble. It will break your heart versus breaking your back. In that sense, there will be some dying. Of your ego mainly. As everything that is false is burned up. That is a dying without counting Jesus’ sacrifice as incomplete or insufficient.

In case you’ve never read anything I’ve written before, I am not talking about a legal or accounting transaction. Merely that WE needed to kill Jesus, the Son of God. So we would finally have proof that no matter what we can think of or do, God is always and forever for us. The resurrection proved that God is not the least bit intimidated by or ever against us. As individuals. Even as He drives out ever last bit of hell that we hold onto in our blindness.

God doesn’t destroy us.

Already Included #30 – Good

By Sarah Nyhan

You can be right or you can be in relationship?

Maybe. Still figuring this one out.

Probably it’s more like one of my favorite quotes from Jane Austen: “You have drawn two pretty pictures; but I think there may be a third – a something between the do-nothing and the do-all.”

In any event, I am learning that my old way of labeling people as merely good or bad is not working anymore after letting this already included message sink in. Probably it never worked. I remember a former friend previously saying, “You’re so damn black and white, Sarah.”

I have realized that unfortunately people who do the most heinous things can also do very good things. And vice versa – those who are generally known to do mostly good things can do something really hurtful every now and then. This is being human.

I thought before that some people were good and some people were bad. You just had to find out who was who. Well, I’ll tell you how far that gets: eventually you end up totally alone and even loathing yourself.

I think everyone will disappoint you at some point. I heard I think Russell Brand say that expectations are akin to fantasies. And I have been guilty for decades of holding people hostage to my expectations/fantasies.

Now that is not to say that there isn’t good and bad behavior. Although even this has been challenged for me. I was raised to believe that certain cultural norms were good or bad. I have had to learn that just isn’t so. If a male wasn’t raised to open and hold a door for a woman, that doesn’t mean he is a bad person. That is only a cultural norm. Another example is even leaving the toilet seat up. Or sending thank you cards. Or not cutting in front of someone in traffic. All of these are just cultural norms. As America is diversified by people from all over the world, I have had to come to the realization that the world I grew up in has changed and many people are not going to do the things I was raised to do. But that doesn’t make them bad people. Or good people for that matter. I could continue on that subject, but not today.

Yet we know there are truly some good and bad behaviors. For instance, I’d say across the world humans know it is good to provide for children and elders. People across the world know it is bad to hit someone – especially if they are the weaker party. People know it’s bad to murder. Etc.

But there is a whole lot out there that I have had to take off the table. Did you know a person isn’t bad if they don’t go to church? And not good if they go to church every day either. Etc. You get the idea.

But that being said, why are we so compelled to label people as good or bad? I guess I can only speak for myself. For me, I think in truth, I am more so attempting to categorize people as safe or unsafe. And that opens a huge can of worms, gets to the heart of the matter.

This might change in the future, but for now I’ve determined that no one is categorically completely safe. This realization can initally lead to a lot of panic, anxiety, and depression. But I’ve learned that the more I accept this human state in all of us – the more personal responsibility I take for my own safety. This is opposed to failing in attempting to make everyone else responsible for my safety.

Now again, this is another can of worms. I would like to clarify that children are not responsible for their own safety. It’s the responsibility of ALL adults to keep children safe until they can do so for themselves. The same with others who need protection: the blind and those who are are challenged in other ways that leave them vulnerable in ways where they are unable to do for themselves.

But at some point most of us have the capability to keep ourselves out of a lot of trouble. But this means standing up, claiming our power, and saying no. Something that I have found is not taught or encouraged in group situations, including a lot of churches.

We can go on and on about #metoo. I think the conversation is very helpful. But women, at some point we have to stop tolerating the bullshit we accept from these men. We do ourselves and the rest of women a diservice when we allow a man to disrespect any of us in any way. I am first to say guilty as charged.

Hear me out: if I go down a dark alley at night in a mini skirt and get raped – it was NEVER my fault. I should be able to walk down a street naked and not get attacked. The attacker is the only one to blame.

But if I hear my girlfriend has a guy who cheated on her, hit her, and stole her stuff – and I am trying to get his attention – shame on him still – but shame on me also!

These are extreme examples to prove a point. But this plays out in everyday situations. How many times does our gut tell us something and we ignore it? Because the person looked normal enough or played the part. And then on the opposite side, we take this to unnecessary extremes and discriminate against people for simply how they look.

It gets even more complicated when you realize some people are safe only to a point. How do you balance interacting with them without encouraging them any further? Realizing they aren’t good or bad. They are just human – and yet every one of all the billions of us are uniquely different.

What does this look like day to day? Mainly what hills do we want to die on? What is important and why? Is someone actually being bad to me or is it my ego wanting to scream, “Off with their heads!”? Am I scared? Are there other options?

Nobody can tell YOU how to answer these questions. And the answers will probably change over time. You do better when you know better. Experience and life teach us new lessons every day. So we are always growing.

What this looks like for me now is setting my own standards for the first time in my life. Versus always looking to others for approval or direction. And not apologizing for that. Yet, being prepared to accept whatever consequences may ensue.

It also looks like allowing certain people back into my life but only to certain extents. You don’t give your car keys to a toddler. In like manner, people now have to earn my trust. Whereas before I gave them way too much benefit of the doubt and unfortunately some people knew and abused that.

I blame the church in some sense for this. I attended a church that taught love believes the best to the point where it allowed opportunistic wolves to fleece the flock at times. Or we preach forgiveness way past the point of again serving up the flock on a plate for wolves to devour.

There has to be wisdom and balance. It would be so nice to just be able to identify all the “bad guys” by a purple stripe on their palm or something. But life is way way way more complicated than that.

I am finding I have to reevaluate my thinking on everything and everyone all the time. People change and people have their limits. Even all of our cells are replaced every so often. Just because someone was doing great last year doesn’t mean they can’t be pushed to a different level this year.

Dr. Bruce Wauchope does a lot of work on explaining how our minds are corrupted in framing our worlds in terms of the good/bad tree. And I agree. He does a much better job of explaining this than I can do now. I recommend checking out his talks on YouTube.

But in the meantime, my thinking is changing from “Is this person good or bad?” to “Do I like what this person is doing? Why or why not? And if not, what am I going to do about it?”

To insist on labeling people as good or bad in my experience leads to the death of all my relatationships. This is probably a huge shock to those still living in the paradigms of thinking some people are in/safe with God and some people aren’t.

It’s “easier” to ask a few questions as a litmus test. That doesn’t require connection or relationship. That doesn’t require being present or opening ourselves up. That doesn’t require taking each new person as for who they are individually versus categorizing them.

To her credit, my ex who had a devil tattoo is still to this day one of the best people I’ve known in terms of almost everything. For sure she had her faults, but I lament dragging her to church one time and harassing her to go a million other times. I lament trying to “convert” her. For all her faults, she had real love, love we see in Christ, down more than 99% of people I know. Not a pushover either. She knew how to say no.

A real shame for all of us who sat in church for mutiple days a week year after year, decade after decade and it never changed our hearts. We thought all we had to do was say the right things. Never really risking real engagement.

There is so much more to unpack on this subject, but that’s all I have time for today.

Already Included #27 – I Believe

By Sarah Nyhan

I still believe in miracles. I just don’t believe I am a fortune teller.

I still believe God can do the impossible and nothing is too difficult for Him. I just don’t believe that He always does what WE, in our limited vision and understanding, think is best.

I don’t think I have to believe enough or have enough faith to make miraculous things happen. I don’t think I have to fast enough or pray enough to make miraculous things happen.

It sounds rather harsh, but I now think that thinking there is a formula to manipulate God into doing something I want Him to do sounds a lot like witchcraft. The Bible is not a book I use to cook up spells as I stand over a boiling brew.

I now think it’s quite the opposite. I think letting go of all of that “magical” thinking is maybe more the catalyst for God being free to pour out supernatural stuff into my life as it won’t now be reinforcing any stinking thinking that would otherwise be the death of life in me.

This comes down to trust. If I think God is always and forever for me then I can relax completely. I know He wants more for me than I want for myself. I know He is not satisfied with any death or sickness in me that I am willing to settle for.

I don’t have to try to predict or control the future. I can just be. I am free to choose and make my own decisions. At the same time that I hold my dreams, desires, plans and goals very loosely. Not that I don’t aim for anything, but I now make a lot more room for God to surprise me.

I don’t think God is tricky. I now think of “signs” as more to catch my attention than literal direction. To get me thinking or to get me to the next step. Versus a literal end in themselves.

In my last post I shared an example of “signs” being used to challenge my thinking. Not in a destructive sense, but in the way where you let a kid struggle to learn something new because you know they are capable and ready.

Now let me give an example of signs being used to get me to the next step versus signs meant to be taken literally.

Back in 2009 I was living with my girlfriend. I had a dream one night where I dreamt that it was “The Rapture” and all these bodies were being lifted up into the sky, but I wasn’t. In my dream, I looked over at my girlfriend and I heard God say, “So she’s worth it?”

I woke up and shot up in bed. The dream was so realistic that I wondered if what I dreamt really happened. I called my mother and figured if she answered then “The Rapture” didn’t happen. She answered and I asked her to pray for me.

My girlfriend at this point had woken up and came to see what was going on. I told her I had to leave. In less than five or so hours later, I was moved out and living two hours away. Two years cut off just like that.

My best friend. Everything. I cried and cried and cried. I was so mad at God! But if He was that serious then I had to do what I had to do.

Flash forward ten years and I’m learning about this “already included” message. I’m realizing I was wrong about a lot of things. So my mind is more open to revisiting everything I thought I always knew. But this gay thing, that is too painful and too much to rip open right now.

Until it’s forced upon me over and over. Three specific times. The last was an encounter with a leader of a local gay Christian group. I can’t run from facing this anymore. But my “signs”?

So I followed Brad Jersak’s example of asking God what He thinks. I said, “God, what about those ‘signs’? I thought for sure you told me homosexuality was wrong? I don’t believe anymore like I did before that homosexuality is cause for someone to be separated from You. But some things are still ‘wrong’, right?”

And as God often does, the answer I received back delivered truth with surgical precision versus the hack job I was attempting: “That was the only way you would have left her before she broke your heart.”

Literally, stunned silence! I did not expect or anticipate that response at all!

When truth hits you so hard and deep that to explain it is to do it an injustice. But for the sake of my point, I’ll try to continue to communicate:

God works within our logic. He masterfully blows it up from the inside out. As Paul Young says in The Shack, not all roads lead to God but God will find us on whatever road we are on. Something to that effect. And so every moment He asks me, “What road would you like to take?”

I’m amazed that even in our brokenness, God allows us to cross paths with each other for times. So the good in us can bless each other. So the not-so-great parts in us can keep being worked out. Iron sharpening iron.

And this is the case. We needed each other for a bit. And enjoyed each other for a bit. But in retrospect I can see the time was probably coming to an end.

But back then and even until recently, I didn’t have enough self-esteem to walk away from people who weren’t all the way for me. I would have stayed until the bitter end.

God knows me better than I know myself. God knows I would never let go. God knows my heart couldn’t have taken a hit from her that would have broken my heart anymore than it was already broken. It would have knocked me down further than leaving the way I did tore me apart. Maybe the way it worked out was easier for both of us compared to the alternative.

And so He worked within my logic. He worked within what I now believe was my very false fear of eternal damnation. Because that was the only thing big enough to get me out before my heart was broken. Even to save her from having to live with breaking my heart. Wow! God is an amazing genius like that!

I wasn’t ready then to see what I see now. A lot of junk and fear had to be worked out of me before this “already included” message could be received. I need to remember this when I am so impatient for others to understand.

And the gay thing? Still being worked out. Maybe I already have the answer but I’m not ready for it. I don’t know. And honestly that’s ok right now.

God is powerful enough to make the answers obvious if that was the point of this human experience. If we’re all here just preparing for some final exam.

The process is obviously much more important than just having the right answer. The depths we explore in our working things out are beyond rich in opportunity for growth – in terms of our relationships with God, our relationships with ourselves and each other, and otherwise.

This Bible I used to love to live and die on is in my new opinion now an invitation to relationship more than the religious equivalent of a Ouija board.

It sounds like I’m being crass and bordering on blasphemy, but I’m really not. I still hold the Bible in high regard for what it actually is and what it can really do. I think it is masterfully used to achieve its intended ends – which to me is absolutely NOT to take everything in it literally.

Any rational person already picks and chooses how they interpret it. Even the most orthodox people don’t go around stoning each other in today’s society. So to consider what else may not be exactly as we have always interpreted it is not such a stretch.

But I think the Christian church at large, at least the circles I’ve been exposed to, still leans a bit more on superstition than God’s heart. And in this context, I am learning to let go of fortune-telling. I am learning to let go of trying to figure out the future. I am learning how to make a concerted effort to stop future-tripping, as I’ve heard Paul Young refer to it.

Yet I still believe God can and probably will do the impossible. Whether that looks like moving mountains in my heart and mind, or showing off for the world to see in more concrete ways – I now trust Him to decide. And I stop trying to figure it out. Common sense and experience says God being God and me being so very human, the likelihood of me accurately foreseeing how the future will play out is really low anyway.

This involves a lot of mystery. A lot of letting go. A lot of being present in the moment. A lot of trust! That only grows through experience, but not the kind of crazy “leaps of faith” we thought we needed before. True rest is risky and revolutionary for the super-religious.

“Your salvation requires you to turn back to Me and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves. Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on Me – the very thing you’ve been unwilling to do.”

Already Included #26 – Signs

By Sarah Nyhan

As much as I’m ashamed to talk about this subject, I write for the little Sarah that I used to be – in case there is another like me out there that Holy Spirit somehow steers towards this page. So they’ll feel validated and less ashamed. So they’ll feel hope.

Today I had a breakthrough. A major victory. But there is quite a back story. Let me see if I can condense it enough to get you caught up fairly quickly.

I could unfortauntely write a book about the subject of “signs”. Maybe I will. But today I’ll just say that when I think back, I’m unsure of how long it’s been since I made decisions based on “signs”. I wonder when and how it started.

I know for sure it originated from being among religious people. I don’t think there was ever a sermon or study on “signs”, but more is caught than taught. I am now becoming aware that the language that people around you are using can subconsciously seep into your thinking and change you without your realizing it is happening.

For example, in the church that I started walking away from a few years ago, you could be telling someone that you were going to make a decision to pursue a certain thing and you might hear responses like: “Oh, is that what God told you to do?” Or, “Oh, so you received confirmation that that is God’s will for you?”

Another example would be when someone would be talking about a decision they made and they’d say something like, “I feel God is ‘calling’ me this way.” Or, “I’ve been led to do [such and such].”

The language is so subtle. And in that sense, insidious. No one actually ever tells you directly to start looking for “signs”. But their words imply that somehow they are hearing from God. So naturally just being around that language invites your mind to entertain those concepts.

My theory now is that unfortunately I think when you are looking for something, you will tend to only focus on seeing what you are looking for and ignore other evidence. I don’t think this is conscious. I think it’s just a fact of science and how our brains tend to operate.

The classic example is when you are looking to buy a new car. You have a car in mind and then every car you see on the road tends to be that car. Suddenly it’s like everyone owns that car.

Another example can be on the more negative side. Say you just broke up from a long-term relationship and your heart is broken. Suddenly it seems like every song on the radio is a love song sent to torture you, every person you see is flaunting the fact that they are in a happy thriving relationship, every movie is a love story, every advertisement you see is about love, etc. You get the point.

Again, this is only my opinion – but when you are in a group of religious people that tend to read the Bible in a literal way as God’s main Word to us, versus reading it more literarily and viewing Jesus as God’s Word to us, then I think we can basically end up using the Bible like a Ouija board or tarot cards.

Let me be clear: I have been one of the worst offenders I know in this area. Unfortunately bordering on… well, let’s just say my passion for God mixed with this horrible “signs” mentality led me to have a huge list of things I regret doing and are difficult to admit to even those that know and love me. Much less, publicly. I have dug myself into so many holes and have the battle scars to prove it. But I can assure you the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

This is why it is so important to guard our minds. This is why I think since I heard this “already included” message that I believe God has allowed me to be somewhat socially isolated not as punishment but rather for protection. Spiritually I have been reborn in my mind and just like you protect human infants, my newfound freedom is being protected until it has a chance to grow and get rooted in deep enough. I didn’t realize or appreciate this until recently.

This is what I think is also meant when Jesus talks about putting new wine into old wineskins. I am not able to take this “already included” message back into my old ways of being. I absolutely cannot. The box I used to live in has been blown to smithereens. I can only move forward. Sheltered by our actual God versus trying to setup a religious house of cards.

And as much as I am not used to actually totally trusting the God I always talked about, I am so thankful He is allowing the fig leaves I’ve been hiding behind to wither away. In the dying of all I thought I knew, I am finding real life. I am coming alive.

And so it goes for signs. The genius of God is that I see Him working in my logic. Blowing it up from the inside. Letting me hold onto it as long as I insist. Until I let go of my understanding and lean on His heart, His matchless unending love. Until I stop trusting in my knowing, believing, doing, etc and instead trust solely in the Father I’ve always wanted. That we’ve all always wanted. Even in the best of circumstances.

When I think back, I see there has always been an easy way and a hard way. The easy way was to take love at face value. The hard way was to do it all on my own.

The easy way was to trust God’s heart and let go of “signs”. The hard way was to not know God’s heart, to drown myself in Bible knowledge and miss the big picture. The hard way was to depend on myself and always need to know because I needed to control.

This is primarily what “signs” are about: a lack of trust and a need to know in order to control. Maybe for those who have been in a better place of knowing God versus just knowing a lot of facts about Him – maybe they have never fallen in or as far into this “signs” mentality as some of us.

And on the flip side, maybe a blessing of leaning more towards the agnostic or the atheist side is having a more grounded common-sense approach towards decision-making versus the magical thinking train of thought that I fell into as I pursued “signs”. Maybe it is easier to have that foundation and then at some point be able to see the true God and filter out all the circus of witchcraft that many Christian churches tolerate – knowingly or otherwise.

I am taking a hard line. I can because I know from first-hand experience how absolutely evil and destructive these things can be. And this is not ok. Not in any way. To turn any away from the unconditional everlasting depths or God’s very personal love for each one is the epitome of heresy and blasphemy. Is wickedness. Is the Pharisees all over again. In different clothes and different houses of worship. Jesus died for that!!! Anything else is more the work of the “anti-Christ” than what I’ve been accused of.

And that is the real interesting kicker to all of this. Never, in my entire life, have I taken more responsibility for my decisions and actions than after this “already included” message seeped into my heart, mind, and spirit. And yet the first objection I usually hear from those that oppose that everyone is eternally safe in Christ is that they think people will run totally wild if they feel like they are eternally safe with God.

I agree that there might be some testing of the waters so to speak. Some pushing of limits. Looking into the sky, waiting for lighting to strike. Waiting to fall out dead on the ground. Things you thought were off-limits before. Maybe you’ll take a taste. We see this with kids in real life quite frequently when they get their first freedom from their parents.

But from personal experience, I’d wager you might not encounter the same “grace” and “protection” you experienced in the times of your delusion. You are a big kid now. You are growing up. God prunes us. His passionate wrath FOR us knows when we are strong enough for the next step. He doesn’t quench the smoking flax or break the wounded reed. But when we are strong enough, He takes off the training wheels.

Quite a shock to me! Kinda like I was a little girl taken in by a great King and at first He provided lavishly. I didn’t to do anything. He knew I needed healing and recovering. Anything I needed, He provided. But a long time went by and He prepared me to be a full person. To be able to go our and do whatever I wanted. I was excited at first. But then the responsibilities of this freedom hit me and I was used to not having to think for myself. I was used to always having Dad bail me out. He still loved and loves me as much as ever, but he knows it’s sometimes good to tell me ‘no’ now. To help me understand the power I have by letting me experience the natural results of my choices. Never to harm me. I see this now, but not at first. Always a beloved child, but not a baby, not an infant anymore. I am designed for so much more. I need to learn and develop in order to continue to explore and enjoy the full richness of this human experience.

And here we return to the talk of “signs” and my major victory.

In 2014 I told “signs” ‘no’ for the first time in a long time. Out of desperation. Not trust. GOD showed off for me in a huge powerful way. I’ve written about it before in a piece I entitled “Iniquity“.

A short time after that, God helped me when again I said ‘no’ to “signs” out of desperation and chose a career in real estate versus teaching. That struggle had me feeling suicidal. When I say this is serious business, I know what I’ talking about.

But I still didn’t get it. Hindsight is 20/20. I look back now and see over and over and over the past five years how God has always been telling me, “I love you completely and you are totally free, but if you don’t see it then we will spend as much time as you need to in order to get through this.” My forty years, literally, wandering in the desert I insisted on. “No, I’m not ready for the Promise Land.” That was never the point. God is always big enough for us. Not that we always get what we want, but that our strength isn’t what we lean on.

I learned to trust these past two years. I felt like I failed and fell on my face more than any time in my life. And no condemnation. None. Only my choice for how long I wanted to keep banging my head against the same walls.

This is where a book would do better. I could give you chapters of examples. But let’s fast forward to two from the past month.

When I say God works within our logic, this is what I mean. I think He frustrates my thinking on purpose sometimes. So I’ll let go of bad thinking, specifically this “signs” mess. About a month ago I was wondering if I should move to Corpus Christi. As I had this thought, I crossed a street named “Corpus Christi”. Why, God?! That is way too random to be a coincidence. BUT that does NOT mean it is a “sign”. And this is where I failed before. The old Sarah would have said, “Ok, God is saying I should move to Corpus.” NO! The new Sarah sees the literal street SIGN as a challenge from God: “You get to decide, Sarah. What do YOU WANT? Would a move to Corpus get you where you are trying to go in life? Is it even feasible realistically?” Etc etc etc. I didn’t have enough “faith” to believe the literal sign was a “sign”. I actually had enough TRUST in God to turn down the “sign” and decide that a move to Corpus is not what I WANTED right now for many reasons. And it was like almost immediately after that a great job opportunity in my current city came up and I ended up being offered the position.

And yet again, that decision in regards to Corpus was more desperation even with more assurance and calm than ever before. But today!

I bought my current vehicle based on “signs” even though God allowed me to hear the salesman tell me to my face, “Sometimes I feel like the devil when I am selling cars.” I kid you not. How more obvious can you get?! Yeah there were signs all right, but my brain only saw what it was looking to see. Even as probably Holy Spirit was bringing to attention how badly my gut was feeling about the deal. But this was before I knew I was “already included”. And that vehicle ended up being a pile of junk! A continuous blaring reminder to not make decisions based on “signs”. But it takes longer for some of us.

And even though I’ve been on my Dave Ramsey hustle after finally starting to dig myself out of the giant holes my “signs” dug for me (with my help and participation), I was considering buying a new car just so I wouldn’t have to worry as much about my car’s problems.

So I went to a mechanic. He tells me he doesn’t think fixing my car is worth it. He recommends buying a Hyundai instead. Is that a “sign”?

The very next day or so I get a letter in the mail saying I am approved to buy a Hyundai at a local dealership. Is that a “sign”?!

Then a man from a Hyundai dealership calls me this morning. AND I notice this morning that a guy who spent the night at the same place I am staying is driving the same Hyundai model that I was thinking of buying. This must be a “sign”, right?!

Well, the old Sarah certainly would have thought so. The new Sarah was certainly tempted to think so. But, with the sting of following so many failed “signs” still fresh in memory, coupled with God’s unrelenting pursuit of my total freedom in His unending love for me, my mind finally had space and room to slow down this morning.

I did not ignore the signs out of desperation. This might sound like ABC 123 common sense, but for me and those who have been where I have been, this is revolutionary! Courageous, audacious, and full of bravery. To be fully present and think, “Yeah, it would be nice on many levels to have a new car. But do I really need one? No, this car I have will last a little longer and it is not my identity. I have as much value driving a beat up car as I do driving a new car. This car is a tool and it does the main job I need it to do. My priority of paying off my debts is more important to ME than buying a new car and more than doubling the debt I am trying to get out of. This isn’t about what God wants or what is “bad”. Either choice is ok to make, but I will most likely incur the natural results of whatever choice I choose. I know better now. Buying a new car does not meet my financial goals right now. So I will wait. And I have enough trust in God that if He wants me to have a new car then He will make it clear to me by providing the money. I know He can. I know it doesn’t depend on me proving anything through taking ‘crazy’ leaps of ‘faith'”.

And all of heaven rejoiced! Finally, Sarah is starting to get it. Actually They saw progress in this area in me YEARS before I ever had a clue. Many of my most “rebellious” acts have been gut responses to lies about God that I was being pressured by others to accept.

Love give you wings. Love gives you some fight in your heart. Love LIFTS YOU UP!! Real love doesn’t kick you down or when you are down. Real love isn’t scary.

First we see people teach us this. Then we experience God for ourselves. Don’t let them talk you out of what Holy Spirit has done and is doing. Tricky to balance this without falling back into the other extreme. Just trust God’s heart for you; Jesus is Their real SIGN that this is absolutely true! With an exclamation point! You can truly embrace the process. This is not a test. This is learning who and Whose you ALREADY are. More like learning to hear see what already is versus jumping back on the performance hamster/torture wheel. Relax.

This is my new manifesto: I am ready for easy love! I have done enough time. I have tried to restring myself up on the tree; I sang “Hard Love” loud and proud with the rest of them. “You can depend on me, Lord. All the others might turn away, but I’ll never give up.” No more. I am done. And it is finished. I am ready for easy love.

Lord, I believe. Thank you for continuing to help my unbelief. You are not satisfied for even one wounded lamb to think they are lost and outside of your safe embrace. I love You and You love me. You love every one of us. You love us like we never knew love before. Thank You for continuing to show us; to help us see and hear and enjoy! You do not give us the spirit of fear; but rather of power and love and a SOUND MIND!

Already Included #25 – Thunder

By Sarah Nyhan

I used to be terrified. Of everything. Including thunder.

You grow up hearing stories about The Flood and Jonah. And as a kid there is a tendency to make a literal connection to weather and God’s “wrath”. I.e. if there is bad weather then God must be mad at me. So if there were huge thunderstorms that were shaking the windows on the house, then sometimes I would literally jump out of bed and lay prostrate face on the floor and start praying for mercy.

Perfect love casts out fear. This morning we had a storm that was so loud that it woke me up out of a dead sleep. And I just laid there and enjoyed it! I thought, “God, you like to pour out your blessings just like this rain is being poured out so much that it feels like the house might be swept away.”

And in the Spirit of Paul Young, “Yes, Lord; please wash away this shack on the inside that others have helped me build.” He is. I am loved. I am beloved.

And I give up. I let go of holding onto even this life, onto all my dreams: of a career, a house, a loving marriage, a big warm close family of friends and otherwise, better health, etc. I let it all go. Even the dreams that are so dear that I dare not speak them here.

Because I am safe. It’s God’s great love to deliver me. Maybe mostly from my messed up thinking before anything else. So I won’t go hitting the floor every time He wants to soothe my broken heart with a beautiful thunderstorm that reminds me His love is bigger than anything this life can bring.

Just like the ocean. I prayed those lyrics also: [lead] me out upon the waters. My soul will rest in Your embrace. Letting go of all anxiety. I will continue to do my best, but without the pressure of the gun of the unnecessary self-imposed stress of proving myself to God or anyone else.

I have not arrived; I will continue to grow and get better. Love does that because love is safe. Love lets you land. I have my forever home and family in Your heart, Lord. And You need me to know this first and above all. Not in my mind, but throughout every bit of my being.

Bless me with Your best because I am Your child and it is Your good pleasure. You love the hell out of me.

Already Included #23 – Values

By Sarah Nyhan

I’m learning recently that just because I have the same spiritual beliefs as someone, that doesn’t mean we have the same values. I think many times in the past, I’ve excused people’s behaviors because they were in the same group of “believers” as me.

Often that group was disproportionately smaller than the general population. There is more to lose in many senses when your community is small. You might accept behavior that you would not otherwise accept if your community were larger.

This can lead to people protecting and defending perpetrators of abuse. I mean, really; let’s call it what it sometimes can be. You hate to think that some people relish the opportunity to exploit the desperation of a smaller group of passionate people. But we see this time and time again across history. Sometimes with lethal or other devastating results by the time those in control have run their course or those in the rank and file finally gather the courage to start anew.

I think one of the most important things I’ve learned with this “already included” message is that no one has the market cornered on spirituality. There are no gurus or prophets in the exclusive sense.

There are gifts, for sure. There is experience also. But without love and true communion with God, I’ve observed people holding onto yesterday’s manna (i.e. revelations) – which then leads to an ugliness taking over, usually with ego at the helm.

We should have our relationship with God as our first and maybe only authority? And then allow others to supplement that relationship when appropriate? We are each able to go to God anytime every day and get a whole new batch of manna, a whole new spiritual refueling, whole new insight. This is relationship. Versus the detachment of abdicating that role to another as intermediary.

I find most often those people who actually speak into my life, do so unknowingly. Those experiences do not feel heavy and conflicted like when another struts around with self-imposed authority, well-meaning or not.

So what does this mean pratically? A few things.

First, unfortunately I’ve had to accept the fact that just because someone believes in this new-to-me “already included” message, that does not mean they have been changed by it in the ways of heart matters. And for me to excuse their hurtful behaviors because of their beliefs is something I do not want to do anymore. This takes courage as the physical “already included” community I am aware of numbers less than several dozens of people. Much less locally.

There is also grief. Especially for someone like myself who has spent so many years operating out of a different paradigm that left me so weighted down for so many years. To understand this “already included” message is literally the best thing I’ve ever known in my life. The first real freedom. Every.single.thing has changed almost. Always for the better.

So to see another from maybe a less oppressive paradigm claim the “already included” message but not value it practically as lived out in relationship – feels like such a loss! It’s as if I discovered a stash of gold and shared it with others. They then took it from me but just stored it in their houses and did nothing with it. Maybe they even put it away for safe-keeping, but it means nothing in the experiential sense. For all practical purposes.

I find it takes longer than I’d like to accept this reality in those I’d like to behave otherwise. And yet, I’d be remiss if I focused on everyone else and neglected analyzing my own behavior in this regard.

The interesting thing is that I am finding plenty of people that don’t have any interest in this “already included” message or Christianity or any spiritual discussion for that matter. And yet, they share my same values even if our beliefs differ. This is so challenging for me to wrap my head around practically even as this makes total sense intellectually.

If all are included, then we each have varying degrees of connectedness with our Creator and manifest that in different ways. What others may lack in the more easly-recognizable spiritual stances and practices, they may make up for implicitly in their authentic actions. Motivated by a heart not numbed by theological addictions. Then are they not behaving with actual spirituality? Possibly even more so than those who would spend hours and years pressuring them to convert and say the “right” things and join the “right” groups, sing the “right” songs, etc. Oh man, this stuff gets messy.

I ask myself as a single person, what matters more? To the extreme – the man who actually values me but has no interest in talking about God? Or the man who can say and even knows all the “right” things, but only values me for what I can do versus who I am?

I am hopeful that the best of both worlds exists out there somewhere for me. The thought of being with someone who values me but is uninterested in God is very sad to me; yet I’d probably choose that option over the alternative described above if I had to make that choice,

But I face this issue not only in terms of a spouse. Suddenly I realize those in the organized corporate church might actually not be the friends I elevated them to be merely by association. There may be others “outside” that actually value me more. Actually treat me better.

I’m almost sick of words these days. For all our talking, I think we could use a lot more doing. Not to condemn others. But just to say, c’mon fam – we can do better. And maybe holding each other to higher standards is part of that.

As always, I have more than enough of my own work to do and keep me busy.

God help us.