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 #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 #29 – Works versus Work

By Sarah Nyhan

Life is so funny and God is so much bigger than the boxes I try to nail Him into. When I first started these “Already Included” posts, I had such a different idea of what I’d be talking about. My desire was and still is to be able to explain and expound on all the purely intellectual theological aspects of this already included message.

Much to my surprise, it was rather revealed to me that I spent the overwhelming majority of my life in my mind and now I was going to learn how to really rejoin the human race and learn how to live again. To really live. Something that I had forgotten how to do after so many years spent just reading the Bible and listening to preachers. Hours and hours every week.

I am confident that once I learn to live again, once I really am living then God will open my mind again to allow me to be able to fulfill these pressing desires I have, these heavy burdens I have to be able to first share what has happened for and to me. And then be able to explain this new-to-me way in terms that will be understood by those that are still where I was.

But first things first. Jesus didn’t say the number one law was to learn the Bible. Jesus said to love God and love others as you love yourself. All of those I’ve had to learn from a totally new angle. Start from the beginning. Back to basics, almost like a newborn. Hmmm. 😉

All to say my ideas of how I wanted to post were in short time thrown out of the window. Instead real life took and is still taking priority. This is a very good thing. But it took me a long while to come around to accepting it and seeing the good in it. To be able to let go of my plans. To let go of my ego also.

If there is one thing I hate, it’s being so sure of something and then having to eat humble pie with those I’d like acceptance from when things turn out differently. So frustrating. Sometimes I feel so humiliated. But even that is helping me let go and not tie my value to the acceptance or lack thereof from others.

Kinda needed in this business of going against the grain. Not that I aspire for that life; just how it played out. My Ezekiel experiences, as I call them. Funny from my perspective because most of the time I am clueless to the bull I can be in people’s china shops. A former pastor called me a pitbull more than once. Apropos in terms of my pursuit of truth, for sure. It’s taken me many years to realize others have a limit for truth.

I’m sure on some level I also initially resist difficult truths, but at the end of every day there is something so innocent in me that is truly relentless in determining what is real and what is not. In every situation. Realizing lately that the journeys I take in those efforts are not wasted time even if they take longer than others.

After the first decade of so of my life, after I saw hypocrisy in adults I previously took at face value, I have always needed to make everything add up. It wasn’t enough to just tell me. I needed to see it for myself. I needed to know how A led to B. I needed to know the why.

I would pray nightly: “Lord, please help me not to be deceived.” Be careful what you pray for. Truth is a blessing that sometimes feels like a curse. There is a certain appeal to ignorant bliss.

As much as I needed to know, this left absolutely no room for mystery. No room for God to be God and surprise us. Trusting Him has been the hardest thing in my life. Letting go and trusting His heart for me.

All the reading in the world won’t move your foot to step out into the water. I wish it worked that way. Real life takes God out of your head and makes all of this come alive.

Just like a baby cries when leaving the womb – every cell, every feeling in me aches as I stretch into this person I am fully intended to be. Not just a brain. But a heart, a soul, a body, a spirit. I feel set on fire sometimes. Every step out of my mind and into the moment like leaving a completely dark cave for high noon on a hot summer day.

Often I collapse in the real physical exhaustion of it all. But I sleep better these days. Especially as I learn to talk to God more versus allowing anxieties to paralyze me. Because there is so much to learn and do. So easy to get discouraged if you don’t stay in the moment and if you forget you are in God’s eternal embrace.

And these are things I still wrestle with: prayer and work.

I think for the majority of my life, my view of prayer was really wrong. I saw it more like a way to manipulate God into doing something. I still don’t know and haven’t had the time to dive into the old texts with this new-to-me lens. Maybe I’ll see things more clearly one day. But so far I’ve surmised that prayer, if we want to keep calling it that, is merely conversation. And primarily for the purpose of changing MY mind.

I used to do the whole prayer and fasting bit, but with what I now believe is the wrong way of going about it. I used to fast and pray for specific things to happen. Now fasting for me is more just a concept of isolating myself from distractions. And now the prayer aspect is just asking for God to help me see things His way, to see the truth. To clear my mind from all my own ideas and make room to see things as they really are. I have had such powerful experiences and successes in approaching prayer this way. It has been an absolute joy.

If only all of me would catch up and on. After so many years of doing things the wrong way, I find I still miss now more than I hit. But the times I hit are becoming more frequent. That is very encouraging. I am so blessed to have sojourners who have come alongside me and paved the way by their examples. We give each other grace, eh?

And so this work business. I don’t think I have it mastered yet. At all. But I certainly have come a long way from where I started. Thank You, Holy Spirit and those who have been patient with me. I really want to talk about what I think is such an incredible and important distinction that I personally feel was not adequately communicated in previous churches I attended. Actually, their rhetoric may have contributed greatly to how confused I became.

Because I remember I was not raised the way I turned out. I was raised to always work hard and take care of business. At least those that claim to follow Christ never approved of any kind of “crazy faith” or “prosperity gospel”. I have no idea how I fell into that. I imagine it was just little changes in language that eventually added up so that I was gradually led over a period of decades to where I ended up. And yet you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Which is this super difficult line for me to figure out.

As an example, I recently met with a former youth pastor of mine from the church I attended with my parents decades ago. He tried to tell me that any experience or feeling I have is basically inadmissible in the court of truth. Yet I’m sure out the other side of their mouths they tell people to have a relationship with Christ. How exactly am I supposed to have a relationship with Christ if I never experience God?! Ohhhh, do you mean I am supposed to have a relationship with the Bible instead? Or that only those in power have the authority to say that their experiences are valid but others’ experiences are conveniently not valid?

That is probably the kind of treatment that initially led me to be more and more open to other lines of thought. But I think I went to the extreme opposite end of the spectrum in my pursuit of truth. I ended up in a group where they preached basically that if I was good enough then God would provide everything I needed in the physical. Note, it wasn’t said exactly that way. Of course. But that’s basically what it boiled down to. If I had enough “faith”, if I “believed” enough, if I “followed Christ” enough, if I “died to myself” enough then God would provide for all my physical needs. And the real evil in that was there was this unspoken but understood condemnation that was communicated when your physical needs were not met: it meant you were doing something wrong or not doing enough. So the answer was easy: just do more, just be better. Because there is no end, eh?

I spent YEARS on that horrible rollercoaster. Fear consumed me because there was no love in that god we created through our own projections. It literally drove me to feeling suicidal and then eventually giving up instead of killing myself. Because even at my worst I didn’t kill myself for fear that would send me to hell before I had a chance to figure out the “right” way, how to get back to heaven. Little did I know my blindness was hell enough; no more hell was needed.

And in giving up, the pendulum swung again. I let go of thinking that I had to do anything for God to give me anything. And that was a good start. I finally realized, through Holy Spirit, that God’s perfect love casts out all fear. I accepted it like a thirsty man accepts water after walking through and almost dying in the desert. BUT… I only solved half the equation. I laid down works but I didn’t know yet how to value work. Only one letter difference but worlds apart.

If I could tell my former self what I know now, I’d say: start everything from the position of refusing to compromise on the fact that God is anything besides absolutely good! That has to be the beginning of any conversation we have. And so…

If God is always good, then it’s my perspective and understanding that is wrong if I’m doubting His goodness. This is where prayer comes in. Do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, go to God. And He will help you. Maybe not by providing you with the explanation you want, but always with the step you need to take next. Trusting His heart and thereby His timing and ways. I realize this sometimes seems like a trite statement in the faces of very real significant losses and pain. But I am sharing what has worked thus far for me.

So that’s what I did after I felt so disillusioned when God did not provide for all of my worldly needs in the ways that I expected after I accepted this already included message and rested from all my “works”. I was angry. I thought I had been given something really important. I didn’t understand why my desires to focus on sharing it were not rewarded in the physical in the ways that I thought were reasonable. This was an extremely difficult time.

Finally I stopped praying for God to do specific things and instead I started to quiet down and ask Him to show me what I was missing. Every time I felt abandoned in the physical, I would feel Him so strongly in the spiritual. There was no denying it. Even if I tried. What gives, God?

Slowly my mind started to shift. I started to understand that work is very different than works. Work is not “bad” in general. But “works” tend to not be great when commonly misused. Work is what you do to pay your bills and put food on the table. Works are things you maybe only unconsciously do in order to manipulate God into doing something for you.

Works can look like a form of religious superstition. Like I have to give the church 10% of my income in order for God to bless my business to make more money. We could go down a rabbit hole on this one, but to keep the focus, in practical matters – ONLY giving 10% to the church will not make your business successful if you sit at home on your laurels and wait for money to fly into your bank account. Work is also required. And work in this context is good.

I hate to go here because I still believe God does miracles, but I think it is cruel to preach from the pulpit that paritioners should ONLY pray away certain health conditions. I’ve heard some churches get crazy with this and attribute every negative thing to a “spirit”. To the extreme this can look like people praying away the “spirit of diabetes” or “the spirit of lung cancer”, etc. Unfortunately some of that thinking got into my head and I think it is wrong and kills people. Literally.

The alternative is to explain to people that it is ok to pray for miracles, but in the meantime we live in a physical world where if you jump off the edge of a skyscraper, probably 99.99% of the time you are going to die. Not great odds. And similarly if you don’t put in the WORK of stopping smoking and getting your diabetes under control then your chances of dying from those things are very high. All the Bible reading, serving at church, praying, tithing, etc probably ain’t gonna save your lungs if you keep smoking.

I’m one of the last to give up on a miracle, but I’m also starting to become one of the first to get to work doing what I can do in the meantime.

Does that make sense? Once you start to accept this, I’ve found you can experience a lot of anger. You can feel cheated out of sooo much by all these pastors that were more concerned about you helping build up their kingdoms while appearing completely unconcerned about how your life was being neglected and destroyed in the process. Countless people have burnt out physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Others have experienced their families and marriages falling completely apart. Even suicides and worse. Now you know why I am so passionate about seeing people freed from wrong thinking!

They are afraid the pendulum will swing all the way back again. That we will give up on God totally. I admit some or my actions might lead outsiders to wonder. I haven’t picked up a Bible in a long time. I don’t have a church I attend. But these desires are slowly coming back in better measure. I’ve learned to look to God first.

I turned a really hard corner this week: I realized the feeling of love is not enough. It might sound unrelated, but it’s not. It’s easy to feel love for someone. It’s a lot more rare to find someone who does the hard work of being a loving person. To find a person who loves because that is their character whatever the weather. Versus a person who feels love but only behaves in like kind so much as serves their purposes. Then they jump ship and leave you high and dry.

Too long I have confused the two. Works and work. And those that feel love versus those that truly are loving.

As I accept this knowledge and move forward, I have enough work to do in minding my own business. But I share for any on the same journey.

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.

Already Included #22 – Anger

By Sarah Nyhan

I’ve been thinking a lot about anger recently. Specifically about how anger seems to be highly discouraged or not encouraged in many religious circles I’ve been in. Even with this new-to-me message of everyone already being included by God in Christ.

There are several things I’ve been thinking about in regards to anger.

The first thing I was thinking about in regards to anger is wondering whether feeling safe enough to be angry at a loved one is indicative of the existence of real trust? We can pay all kinds of lip service, but do you really trust that person enough to be angry with them?

I see this in cults of personality a lot – where there is this inability to get angry with the person who is carrying the show. Then sometimes a monster continues to grow and does nobody any favors. I’m getting better at seeing it, some improvement in accepting it, and starting to give myself permission to be angry and walk away if needed.

There is such grief. We put our hope in people. Probably mostly unconsciously. Maybe there is a level of shame that keeps us from grieving when we start to see that someone is failing us. I’m not saying the shame is warranted, but there’s this feeling of loss, maybe great loss. Like if I can’t count on my mind to protect me from falling for these kind of people then how will I ever feel safe?

It’s this very hard business of learning to trust ourselves. And then what? Sometimes one more disappointment feels like it will be the break. Sometimes we just go along to get along. Something is better than nothing? Maybe for a time. I have a feeling the Life in us won’t let us get too comfortable even as we might keep things at bay by keeping our minds busy, busy.

More on anger; switching gears. Is it ok to express anger to God? To say, “God, I am angry at you? If you are so about relationship, why did you let so and so go away? I know you can do such and such, God? Why don’t you?” Etc etc etc. Do we feel safe enough with God to express our anger to Him?

I was thinking about Job. How many chapters did Job go on and on and on? It’s interesting to me that God doesn’t show up when Job is keeping busy intellectually. It’s when Job’s emotions take the wheel and he unleashes his anger, in a sense, that he finally hears God speak. Not when Job had his church clothes on with all the palatable pretty “right” answers. It feels like when Job got real and angry, that’s when God showed off for him.

In my own life, there was a time where I told God no; I was so angry with God. And just like Job, that’s where I feel like I heard and saw and experienced God the most at least for the first time in years.

I was thinking about the little children running to Jesus and Him admonishing the adults to approach Him as a child. Have you seen a little child lately? They haven’t had the fight knocked out of them. When they are angry, they express it without regard for social/culture manners.

Does Jesus mean for us to give Him even those cries in our hearts? What does that even look like? To hold us as we rage? I don’t like the opposite argument that says, “Don’t be mad at God or He’ll get you and let you have it.”

Switching gears again, I was thinking about how it is hard to get angry at the people that you value the most. Especially if those people have been maybe the only good in your world.

Again, we go back to is there the illusion of relationship or real actual trust? This scares us. Even as life is rarely yes or no and black or white, it’s too scary for me to think about getting angry with the people I love and then risk their rejection.

Avoiding the questions doesn’t make the sick feelings go away. My experience in expressing my anger has revealed even more assurance versus no hope. Understanding and deeper levels of maturity also seem to result. It’s almost as if anger is an invitation and a gift in this respect. A bridge to more intimacy if treated as such.

And finally, switching gears again. Somewhat related but maybe the different side of the coin for religious folks: anger towards those who are “getting away with” things maybe we’d like to do. Which creates quite the internal dilemma for those exiting a legal paradigm. There is a strong resistence to letting go of “rules”.

I sometimes see others experiencing anger when they see others getting away with their judgement of “sin” or scandalous freedom. Yet the anger seems to be rooted in jealousy more than in “righteousness”. And yet to live in that legal paradig is to miss the point. Let’s use an example:

Say you are married and see someone else engaging in physical relations with people they are not married to. The initial reaction might be, “This is wrong!” But maybe deeper you wish you had the freedom to act on your impulses.

Please hear me that my point is not that having premarital sex is “good” or “bad”. I’m not going to go there. That’s not the point.

The point is that it’s easier to be in a legal paradigm of telling yourself, “It’s wrong and against God for me to have sexual contact or emotional relationships with another person outside of my marriage.”

And then on the flip side, it’s almost easier to cheat on your spouse if you operate under that same legal paradigm. Because then you can objectify your spouse and consider the act of cheating as only being offensive to God. Then you don’t have to open your heart to your spouse and ask the harder questions.

However when you switch to operating through the example of The Trinity, then cheating ceases to be a legal question and then becomes relational. Without operating under law – now you have to consider your spouse’s heart. Now this person is not an object. Now love is the standard. Now it’s not about seeing what you can get away with.

Now the bigger questions come up for the brave who will go there: “Why do you want to cheat on your spouse? How would their hearts break with your cheating? How would your other relationships be impacted by the cheating? Is cheating an act of love towards everyone who would be impacted? And if I don’t care, then why not and what does that say about the current state of affairs of my relationships?” Etc etc. A goldmine for the courageous who embrace the questions.

That’s all for now.