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 #21 – Will It Be?

By Sarah Nyhan

A few weeks ago I was driving down the road and wondering whether I should go live in Corpus Christi. Right after I had the thought, I passed by a street sign with the words “Corpus Christi”. The old me would have seen that as a “sign” to move.

The new me saw it a little differently; saw it as a friendly challenge. As in, “Do you really need to go down this literal road again? How many times do you have to bang your head against a wall before you turn around and go a different way? Cause we can keep doing this as long as it takes. The wall ain’t going anywhere.”

Out of all these years, this has been the one thing that seems the hardest to let go of. I’m sure this has some deep-root in needing to feel safe. And in control. Whew!

We only need control when we don’t trust. Think about it. Think about a lover, fictional if need be. If you implicitly trusted that person’s heart for you, you would be ok letting go of control. But not so much if you have doubts.

And there I am with God. Still unsure after all these years. Light years beyond where I started, but still not all the way there yet. Maybe never will be. But I’d like to continue growing.

And so these signs. It’s about being able to predict the future. Which rationally is impossible. Yet our culture is so obsessed with the illusion of being able to control and predict the future that we take it for granted. We hold each other accountable for things we are really unable to promise.

I’m learning to live in the grace of each moment. Borrowed primarily from Paul Young. Like he also says, letting go of outcomes. This makes me seem like I don’t care. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. But those still on the “other side” have become very upset with me; even to the point of not speaking with me.

Because I am learning to use different language. I am not so certain anymore. Learning not to over-promise and under-deliver. Still a long way to go, but making good progress.

All to say I’ve slowly, painfully been coming around to the concept of “writing my own story”. This is completely opposite of the deterministic god I was taught in previous religious circles. That god has a plan and I was along for the ride. Hence, the signs.

This new-to-me God I think is different. Maybe not totally hands-off; I’m not buying that yet. But whenever I ask what to do, mostly all I ever get back now is, “What do you want to do?”

What do I want? I never asked those questions in the old way. That was blasphemous talk in the old way. Literally and seriously. In the old way god didn’t care about me; I had a job to do and good soldiers were rewarded.

Ironically it is the study of the history of science that is clearing things up for me. Whole worlds. These scientists were not special guys in many senses. We make them larger than life and they certainly had gifts. But in a way I think some of their non-religious focus contributed to their freedom to abandon themselves to the pursuit of the wonder of Creation they saw and experienced. To me now, science in good measure is one of the highest most beautiful forms of worship.

I imagine God not looking down on Mr./Ms. Scientist and being disappointed that they are in the lab versus going to church. Rather I now picture Holy Spirit right there across the lab table giddy with excitement as one of Their kids starts to unravel a mystery that will change the world. Totally unthreatened by the questions and debates that will ensue. All a part of the process of inviting us to draw closer. Even in our anger and disbelief. Not a puppet master; rather able to handle anything and everything we come at Him with.

And here is where my mind strains at current capacity. What might we do if we really got it? If we really understood how Creation yearns for our full release into all we were designed to be. Not in a plan so much as possibilities.

This is where the ceiling blows off all my previous boxes. From the INside out. Instead of figuring out one storyline, now the entire cosmos is a possibility. Do you know what this means?! We get to write our own stories! As in, what would your life look like if you started over with no signs, no plan. Just a pen. What would the next line be?

This means you can pursue that dream. To borrow a bit from my brother, this means it is almost a sin NOT to pursue the dream inside of you.

Now don’t get carried away; as with anything – my words can be incorrectly extrapolated to unhealthy extremes. Remember, if our choices will impact others in ways that look a lot different than love then I’d say tread so lightly and do a lot more considering and talking to God about that.

But the point remains. You could have been created as a dog or a donkey. Instead you were given the highest place on this earth and in the known cosmos. You were given life in Their Image. You are not God, you do not exist on your own. But you are definitely given so much power to create. Anything. For better or for worse.

Have you really embraced that ability and power? Is your story going to be coming home and watching TV until you go to bed? For the rest of this life? I mean, I get it; the world is really sad – sometimes you just want to get away. All I am saying is maybe don’t blame that life on God.

It hurts to dream. It hurts to pick up the pen and try again. Fact is we’ve lost a lot; we’ve been sold a bag of bad goods for a long, long time. That’s hard to take. There is anger and deep deep grief. And time to mourn. But at least for now, also another tomorrow.

They already took enough; don’t let them give us a life sentence. Take today back. Take YOUR life back a moment at a time. What does writing your own story look like in this minute?

I don’t think God is a tricky God. I don’t now think He has some magical plan that He hides from me and leaves breadcrumbs in signs for me to find. That would be too tricky, in a bad way.

Now I see it differently. I see it as He opens in my mind windows of possibilities; gives me insights into avenues for exploring. And any are mine for the pursuing. Knowing the participating is more the point than the outcomes.

This means I can dream bigger. This means I can ask for more. This means even a simple life is worth as much as solving the latest planetary crisis. We dance with this God. We are not being dragged.

I used to pray as a little girl that I wanted to walk with God like Enoch. I used to pray as a little girl that God would help me not to be deceived. That He would never leave me to myself. I see so much how those prayers have been answered over and over. To the point where I was shown I can stop praying them out of fear and relax in God’s total love and acceptance. He hears, He knows, He sees. I don’t have to beg Him for things He already is happy to give us.

I’m still not really settled or sure what prayer is anymore after all I’ve been through after the past almost two years. But what I know for sure is that there is so much more out there for us to experience and embrace. Our God is not the icon on a throne with scepter in hand as subjects prostrate themselves around on the floor. Now that is blasphemy!

Our God embraces the little children who run to Him. Children who instinctively knew He was safe to run to. Our God puts on astounding displays in new sunsets and new sunrises every day. Our God sings to us from night skies and northern lights. Everything saying there is more, there is more, there is more! More beauty in us and for us. More love. More of Him to explore.

I wonder how far we can take it? How far can we take “you have not because you ask not”. I know this is NOT name it and claim it. But unanswered questions are invitations that continue to beckon.

Whether you do much or do little, whether you do big or you do small – today you write a story. What will it be?

Switchbacks

I used to lament that it felt like I kept going around and around the same mountain. Will I ever get off? Someone responded and told me I might be going around the same mountain, but I am still moving up – each time around a little shorter and shorter.

I thought about how we don’t build roads straight up the side of a mountain. Instead we build roads that zig zag up the side of a mountain. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

Life can kinda be like that. You think you’re going one way and then you hit the “end of the road” and have to turn around. It seems like you’re headed right back where you started. But we can never go back. We always move onward. Just like the roads. Eventually we get somewhere. Even if it looks like all we’re seeing is the same scenery along the way.

They say the view is better at the top. Even when it seems like all of life has passed you by, never give up.

I Wonder

One of the top responses I receive when I tell people that I believe every human will be with Jesus after this time on this earth, is that they think that means I am telling people that it doesn’t matter what a person does in their lifetime. That’s a tricky statement. I’ve learned to ask people to be more specific when they throw statements like that out at me. Otherwise my answer could have nothing to do with their real question.

But there are two different ways to answer that question. One way is to answer the question how I know they mean it: whether or not I think what happens to us after our physical bodies give out has anything to do with what I do here on earth. For me, now, I think we all existed in Jesus before He was born on earth, and I think when He died, we died. And when He rose, we rose with Him. So no, I don’t think the end result of what happens to me after my physical body gives out is dependent on me. I think it depends on Jesus. But what that looks like from now to the end result – I think I’m wise enough to probably not know how it all works out exactly.

The other way to answer their question is literally: does it matter at all what I do? I think yes, absolutely. To a point. Which is not me trying to dodge the question. I’m just speaking from experience. And experientially, I have never taken more responsibility for my decisions and choices than when I finally accepted God’s total and unconditional love for me. Notice, for me. Not necessarily all my behaviors. But when you know, you really know that you are securely loved – there is now real motivation to do better. The odds are not against you.

The flip side is that you cannot flippantly toss aside every failure as circumstances outside of your control. And yet, to a point. I’ve experienced situations where I’ve tried everything I know to try and the situation doesn’t work out. It seems like the door is shut. But for most of life, it seems like my choices matter more than ever now. When there are no rules, per se, you can’t put the blame for your screwups onto God and blame Him for the “formula” not working out.

I started thinking about this today in terms of wondering about how people debate whether there is “the one” out there for them to marry. It seems almost like a dirty trick if there is this person out there and you don’t feel like God gave you the secret decoder to figure out who they are. Nowadays I’m more apt to say it’s not God’s character to play tricks on us like that.

The more initially terrifying thought is whether there is NOT “the one”. Then that means everyone is a possibility. Then that means it’s your responsibility alone in regards to who you pick to marry. And you alone are responsible for that decision. For better or for worse. That puts the pressure solely on you if you married too quickly or ignorantly. In hindsight even.

Taking full responsibility would mostly give the deliberations about who to marry a much more serious tone. First you have to know yourself and figure out what you really value. What is really important to you. And then drop the fairy tale romantic crap. Little girls are especially indoctrinated with that fantasy crap. From Snow White to Cinderella to Beauty and the Beast. All crap. Just hang around and wait for Mr. Prince Charming to rescue you off to wedded bliss and riches. Am I jaded or is it true that isn’t likely to happen?

And yet there is an awesome connection when you meet someone with your same values. Undeniably. My point is most people jump the gun before they even get to that point. They confuse lust with like values. Or they connect in their brokenness. Which isn’t a sure sign of failure, but isn’t a great bet alone for success either. Others connect based on enjoying similar activities. But what happens when tastes change or abilities and resources change? What reason will you have to stick around then?

At some point commitment comes into play. But I’d like to believe there is still love out there that stays mostly without feeling pressured to do so. And so there comes my God. He knows who needs who. Sometimes who we need isn’t who we want right now. Or sometimes who we need right now is not someone we should marry. Maybe they were only in your life to learn something. But you incorrectly took it somewhere farther than it was supposed to go? Having the option of learning a lesson the easy way or the harder way. Scary to consider that choice may truly be up to you.

But on the flip side, I’d say more people settle for something is better than nothing right now. And probably keep repeating the cycle over and over until the repercussions finally slow them down enough to face the wreckage behind them and consider their part in it all. I’ve been there. Not raking you over the coals without including myself.

And yet I still have hope. Looking back and thinking of all the good that was still worked out of even the worst situations. Not that the good justifies the bad. But only that I think God’s grace can be found even in our worst failures.

And is it really failure if you keep putting one foot in front of the other and are a better person today than you were yesterday? I’d say no – failure is when you give in to giving up. There are times to walk away, but for me failure is defined by completely giving up hope for any good to be found in the future and giving up on God’s love for you. If you’re there right now, ask Him to help you see Him and help you see what’s good and where your hope is. He promises you will find Him if you seek Him.

I read a story today about a man and a woman who grew up in the same town in Mexico in different classes. The male was attracted to the female from afar but they never interacted because of the class separation. Then they both moved separately to New York and ended up working in the same restaurant and eventually getting married. How do you explain that? That’s too coincidental to be random.

So I wonder. With love as well as so many other things in life, what part is up to me and what part is up to God? And I find He answers my heart cries through experiences versus words and head knowledge alone. Be prepared to live it when you ask big questions like that. And hang on for the ride! Never a dull day with Jesus. I am thankful for this epic adventure of a life.

Choose Life

Funny conversation with a friend yesterday. I mentioned how I’ve heard it said that sometimes people unconsciously try to determine “God’s will” for their lives, as it pertains to direction outside what is specifically provided for in the Bible, so that when things go wrong/poorly then they can blame the outcome on God versus taking responsibility for their own choices/decisions/actions. My friend mentioned that other times people try to blame the devil instead of God. And then the funny part was she said the devil probably gets mad at that and says, “Oh that wasn’t me! Believe me, I could have done way better at messing things up than that!” 😁

We are probably our own worst enemies. Taking responsibility for our choices/actions/decisions can be an extremely rude awakening for those who have been using “signs” as a spiritual Magic 8 Ball. I’m first in line, unfortunately. Well-intentioned, to be sure. Even if at least somewhat selfishly motivated by wanting any and all “blessings” associated with “pleasing God”.

What if your spiritual security doesn’t depend on what you do? What if you’re already completely accepted and loved?

What if God, The Great Physician, prioritizes your healing over your comfort? What if He lets you insist on going off and wasting everything until you are sitting in a mud pile with the pigs and wishing to eat some of their slop? Because He knows that will bring the greater healing that you even have prayed for? Not to “please” Him, although He rejoices in your healing. Not to punish you; “it is finished!”

I think that’s what the wrath of God FOR you looks like. Not anger against you. But undying passionate love for only your best.

Do we want the God that loves us more than we love ourselves? The God who wants more for us than we even can conceptualize for ourselves?

Or do we just want Santa Claus? Or a spiritual sugar daddy? “Just tell me what will make you happy, Jesus. Tell me what I got to do.”

Ugh. I can barely write those words. But if you really think about it, that’s the demonic witchcraft at work in how religion attempts to reduce the unfathomable depths of God’s love and relationship with us down to transactions or manipulations.

God is not tricky. He thinks more highly of us than we think of ourselves. Enough to come down and let us abuse Him and murder Him. Without retribution. And from that same heart He gives us freedom to choose how we are going to LIVE this life He gave to us. We are little creators made in the image of our Creator.

Not students here on a lifetime final exam. Not children of a father that needs conformity for his ego. Not captive participants in some sick game.

You have the freedom to fail. And the freedom to succeed. Choose life. It feels like starting over. It might feel like the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to do. But He’s been with you all along. And He’s never going to leave you. Ask Him where He is. Ask Him to help you see.

Perfect love casts out fear.