Already Included #19 – Biggest

By Sarah Nyhan

I’ve noticed a phenomena in myself and many others where we choose to align ourselves with whoever is “biggest” versus best. We tell ourselves that biggest equals best, but that is more a lazy convenient argument than actual truth.

I’m sure many of us have gone to a new city and chosen to eat fast food instead of exploring the local fare. The best restaurant we’ve never tried could be located around the corner, but instead we’ll choose the bigger fast food chain rather than do a little investigative work. We tell ourselves we’re making the right decision because the fast food chain is bigger and “safer”, even though in more familiar surroundings it would be our last choice. All to avoid venturing into the unknown.

The great majority of us who are U.S. citizens exclaim that America is the greatest country on earth without having travelled enough outside of our bubble to say that as an experiential truth. We’re one of the biggest countries, but does that automatically make us the best? How different are we than the homeless person who chooses to sleep on the streets of an over-priced city with few realistic prospects rather than venture out to a more affordable smaller city only miles down or up the road?

We do this with employers, universities, and even churches. Yet bigger doesn’t always mean better. As a mentor told me, more isn’t better – better is better.

Yet it’s not easy to do the work of finding out what is actually best. Maybe more to the point for some, it’s also not easy to do the very difficult work of facing the disappointment and mourning of having invested so much into something we hoped would turn out differently. To the extreme, people have literally lost loved ones to wars fought by this big country – the ultimate sacrifice. How can they even start to consider that loss might have been in vain or unnecessary? (I’m not saying this is true in all cases; only that thinking it could be even in one case is close to unbearable.)

It can even be difficult to accept that we’ve invested more time than was warranted with a big church or a big employer. We end up playing on tilt; hoping one day our investment will pay off if we keep pouring all we have into it. Especially insidious when those in command misapply good spiritual principles to guilt those looking up to them to not hold them accountable.

Then there is the hard work of facing the rejection of others. Less of an issue when you try to buck the system with your friends in a new town. If they all reject your attempts to try a new local restaurant instead of a bigger fast food chain then you’ll probably choose not to die on that hill. What’s a few less-than-optimal meals?

But if we’re talking about leaving a big country or even an big employer, there will be a measure of pretty fierce rejection by many of our comrades. My personal experience has been that leaving a big church or a big theological way of thinking is not much different.

I never initially considered that even jealousy could be a reason for rejection versus outright disagreement with my new viewpoints. Sometimes there are people who don’t even feel free enough to even admit to themselves that they long for something different and better. When someone else speaks their truth or has the audacity to act on it and then experience undeniable freedom and joy – that threatens their entire house of cards. Your courage can be offensive in that sense. And their reaction might be anger towards you. It’s too much for them to face – until the pain of staying the same becomes unbearable.

Just because a theological belief system is the biggest, doesn’t mean it is completely true. Over and over we have proof of this not only in general history, but also in our own Bibles. People have paid with their lives and livelihoods in order to leave these systems and speak and live out truth as was revealed to and embraced by them.

What motivated David, Daniel, and Esther to stand against the great big human powers of their time? They knew how much bigger and better their God is compared to the greatest displays of human power.

“…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”

Even Jesus showed us that all of man’s worst is not to be feared. Being with God is the true majority no matter if all of Creation turns against you. As I’ve said before, I’d rather be in the desert with Jesus than in a “promised land” without Him.

And yet that isn’t the end of the story. Human nature says stick your tongue out at the other side and clob them over the head when you get the chance. For all your troubles and to give them something to think about. But is that the example of our Saviour? He certainly didn’t subject Himself without purpose or in all cases, but His attitude and being was humble service versus ego.

In that regard, when rejected we can fully trust Holy Spirit with our comrades and loved ones. We are free to go live our lives without having to devalue them or anything positive we obtained through our time with them. To every thing there is a season. Just because it is time to go different directions doesn’t mean there was never anything good.

And likewise, just because I love you doesn’t mean I can never disagree with you or that you are never wrong. This is the beautifully big business of navigating relationship in the context of God’s perfect and complete love.

Although I cannot turn back and join you just because you won’t leave, and although I will not stop seeking the destruction of every lie that destroys us or destroys the connection between us, my growth doesn’t have to mean your annihilation. And vice versa.

Wish each other well.

Again

Even the pursuit of knowledge can be an addiction. A distraction from heart matters. What will we admit and accept today? What will we surrender? Not in the old way of denying desires. But in the new way of knowing God can handle everything and anything we bring to Him. Even our turning away. Jesus proved God so loves us that much.

He isn’t intimidated by the worst of our mess. Others may turn away. His mercies never fail. They are not for a season. They are new every morning. Fresh. Not exasperated with us. Only wanting our best. Even when we’ve given up on ourselves.

Spring is in the air. New life. Begin again.

Already Included #18 – Beeee Still

By Sarah Nyhan

This afternoon I am sitting in the living room when I start to hear furious buzzing! I look to the window and see a bee flying up and down trying to get out. He doesn’t seem calm, rather his buzzing indicates anger.

I wanted to help but I was afraid he wouldn’t see my interference as help and would instead attack me. So I opened the front door which was less than a foot away. And waited.

I hoped Mr. Bee would realize that I had opened the door, but he was so focused on his own way that he didn’t realize me or the gigantic opening available to him if only he’d be open to another way.

I sat there wondering how long this might take. I couldn’t go back to my work. I needed to make sure he was out so I could close the door. I decided to pray. “Lord, please help the bee find the door and fly out.”

Nothing. Buzz, buzz, buzz. Up and down he went over and over literally banging his head trying to get where he wanted to go when there was a huge open door just a little step away.

So then I wondered if I could somehow mentally communicate with the bee and tell him to move. Not really expecting it to work, but happy if it did. “Bee, move to the right, move to the right.”

Nothing. He’s as lost as ever. So I’m standing there staring at the bee and wondering what to do next.

Soon these people start walking outside and talking. Then a big truck drives by. Then a hawk calls. Then birds start chirping. And the breeze is whipping in. Surely the bee could hear and feel how close his freedom was just a foot away?

No change. Finally I realize this is a metaphor for me. God knows I need pictures like this.

The bee represents those people that I want to experience the same freedom that I now experience. We are both looking at God, but they are separated from the experience that I get to enjoy by such a small but important difference.

I want them so badly to stop banging their heads and just take one extra step over and consider another way that will help them see God to be greater than they already know.

Yet, in my previous attempts these past two years of trying to intervene and “help” people get to freedom, I have not been well-received because they don’t think I am helping.

Now I’ve learned to step back, but I admit I get impatient. I still try to pray them in or send them thoughts hoping something will get through.

Finally with the bee today, I started to pray for myself. “What should I do, God?” I felt like He gave me the sense that I should do nothing other than to share this story. After I started writing, the bee changed course and flew through the open door and out into freedom.

The lesson for me was to stop focusing on changing other people. Holy Spirit was fully invested and completely able to get me where I needed to be. In the same manner, God is also revealing Himself to everyone else.

In the meantime, I feel like the most I can do is embrace what I experience and simply share my story. Just beeee still and know that He is God.

A well-lived life, marked by genuine love for others, and the genuine fruits of love that grow as we experience our Creator’s unending passion for us, will speak volumes more than the most carefully-crafted theological defenses.

A sure change from times past. Where it all depended on us. Now I begin to actually live and truly love.

God’s got us.

Already Included #17 – John MacMurray: March 2nd

Today I attended the event in Belton, Texas where John MacMurray was speaking with a focus on the material in his latest book, A Spiritual Evolution. As God always does, I went expecting certain outcomes and was completely surprised by what God seemed to have in store for me personally. I also met some new friends and enjoyed talking with so many people. Community is always my favorite part of these events.

But how RICH we were to have John travel all the way from Oregon to speak with us for over four hours! A spiritual buffet if you will. And we were stuffed with so much goodness. Here are my highlights from thirteen pages of notes taken in my new journal gifted to me by the beautiful Clarice:

  • People are not going to look for other answers or be open to new information that challenges their current paradigm until life brings them to a point where they consider that their current way of thinking may be incorrect.
  • Relationship takes a long time. Life is about relationship. Information is not the end goal.
  • Love is not something God does. Love is who God is. The deepest, truest thing about God is NOT that He is a narcissist.
  • God is always better than whatever metaphors we try our best to use to explain Him.
  • The way I used to think said God’s highest aim was to create us for His glory. It is different and totally beautiful if rather God creates to share the relationship experienced by The Trinity.
  • In The Trinity there is now humanity through Jesus.
  • We cannot control others. We can only influence others. And we influence through love.
  • It is a holy privilege to have children.
  • We can live out of already being embraced by God versus living to be embraced by God.
  • God is interested in destroying the sin that comes between Lover and beloved. This is versus loving rules over relationship and being focused on punishing sin.
  • In this way we also should think of sin in relational terms versus moral or legal terms.
  • No one wants to get into our mess to clean it up. God not only gets into our mess, but He jumps in to heal us – not just clean us.
  • Jesus comes to give us His knowledge of OUR Father. Our problem is we don’t know our Father.
  • Eternal life is also relational.
  • God is completely invested IN and committed to us. To you. To me.
  • The truth of my being is different than the way of my being. And obviously we aim for the way to eventually match the truth. This is at least a lifelong process. Without a pass/fail final exam.
  • Reconciliation is a different conversation than forgiveness. You can’t have reconciliation without trust.
  • Beauty shortcircuits intellect. Beauty gets behind our watchful dragons.

Already Included #16 – Emmanuel

For God so loved rules that He needed to see blood and have someone die before He could let His creation off the hook? That’s not what is recorded. God so loved US. Not rules and laws.

Today I listened again to Dan Schiopu’s message entitled “Emmanuel, God Is With Us“. Dan has a unique gift for delivery. I recommend you listen to the entire message.

However, here are some quotes mixed with my own thoughts after listening:

Our initial error is doubting God’s uncompromising goodness. And that continues to be our struggle.

We have a perception problem. Not a legal problem.

Man changed with the fall. Not God.

“You are not valuable because of the price Jesus paid for you. Jesus paid the price for you because of your value.”

“The Bible doesn’t say that your goodness leads God to repentance.”

“Repentance is not something that you do to change God’s mind about you. It’s something that happens to you, to your mind when you discover who The Father really is.”

“You can reject your own sonship, but you cannot change it.”

The parable of the prodigal son is not about a Father waiting for a son to come home and humble himself. The parable of the prodigal son is not that we need to change our behavior. The point of the story is that God has never loved us less even when we are at our worst. The story is about changing OUR minds to see that God is always the Father that never walks away from us and never stops being our Father. Who loves us forever. A love without end. AMEN?

The gospel is not about mercy being given to undeserving sinners. The gospel is about God coming to get His kids back from being alienated from Him only in their minds.

The blood of Jesus was not shed to appease God. The blood of Jesus was shed to appease OUR conscience. Now we have no excuse. The worst has already been done to God. And we did it. Not The Father. We threw our best punch at Jesus and God didn’t stop loving us and He didn’t leave us.

So we can run to Him even at our worst. The same Jesus who ate with prostitutes and touched lepers. To prove to us that we have nothing to be afraid of.

The blood of Jesus was not shed so God can accept us. The blood of Jesus was shed so WE can accept God!!

The blood of Jesus is not the barrier that protects you from God. He is always Emmanuel.

Lexus Lights

Another memorable true story from my adventurous life:

It was almost ten years ago. Between 2am and 5am in the morning. I received a notification for an out of town taxi trip. I was a little disappointed when I scrolled through the trip details. On out of town trips, the dispatcher is supposed to provide you with the destination and the estimated fare that was quoted to the passenger. In this case, they did not provide me with any of that information. They only said that the passenger agreed to a minimum $50 trip charge. Less than I was hoping for but better than nothing. So I headed out to the pickup location.

The passenger was being picked up out in the middle of the country on the far south side of San Antonio. Much farther away than any of the regular business of the night.

I drove out to the location wondering who the passenger could be, where they could be going, and what their story might be. Why would they need a taxi at 3am in the morning? I was cautious because a trip like this was out of the norm, but I settled myself by deciding that maybe they could be an international traveler preparing to leave for the airport super early in the morning.

I left the main part of town and started driving in the country towards the passenger’s pickup location. I noticed a vehicle had pulled out of a gas station and seemed to be keeping pace with my speed. They were behind me and weren’t passing me. When you drive twelve hours a day, you notice little odd things like that. Usually in the country there are two types of drivers: people who know the area and ignore all the speed limits and just drive to get where they are going. Or there are people who know the area and drive really slow because they don’t have much else to do.

There was something about the person behind me that was different. I didn’t know where I was going so I was driving slower than normal so I could try to read the street signs in the dark. And this driver wasn’t passing me but they weren’t riding my bumper either. They seemed to stay the correct amount of distance away the whole time. But they were close enough that I noticed that their headlights were different than most vehicles on the road. I’m not knowledgeable about vehicles so I referred to their headlights as “Lexus lights” because those were the only vehicles that I knew of that had those lights. Again, not a huge deal but kind of out of place for a Lexus to be driving around at 3am on the country roads.

I was worried at this point. I was wondering if someone had placed a call for a taxi, was following me, and was going to trap and assault me at the destination location. My mind was devising all kinds of ways to escape. You never know who is going to be in your taxi. You don’t have the luxury of waiting for the police to arrive if someone is attacking you.

As I was thinking these thoughts, I was distracted by trying to find the street I needed in the dark. I found it and made the turn. I looked behind me and noticed that the Lexus hadn’t followed. I dismissed a little of my worry and proceeded to concentrate on the situation I would be encountering in a few short seconds.

When I located the passenger’s house, immediately I noticed that there were at least three vans in the driveway and a lot of people. That was odd to me. Sometimes people call for taxis because they don’t have a working vehicle. This was obviously not the case in this situation.

Other times people call for taxis because they don’t have anyone else who can give them a ride. This again was obviously not the case.

I thought to myself, why would someone call a taxi if they had a vehicle and someone else to drive them? My guard was up at this point. Something was wrong. My gut knew it.

As I watched the scene of people on the front porch, I noticed nobody was hugging. Usually when loved ones are separating, there is at least the appearance of affection as they hug each other goodbye. Again, my mind was telling me something was wrong.

Also, no one from the group of people immediately came to the taxi to acknowledge me. Usually there is someone in a group who will greet the driver and will ask the driver to wait while the others come to the vehicle. Nobody acted like I was even there.

Then a man brings a suitcase to the vehicle. He doesn’t say anything to me. I just get out and open the back door of the van and he puts the suitcase into the trunk. He walks back to the house. Only one suitcase. I was thinking maybe a whole group of people were going to the airport so maybe that is why they called for a taxi. But no, only one suitcase.

Then a lady comes out and asks me to wait. Since this was a $50 trip and I had driven so far already, I decided to wait. I notice people are talking and walking back and forth on the porch. Something is wrong but I can’t figure it out.

Then an older bigger man walks towards the taxi and angrily says to me, “Where are you taking her?!” I say, “I don’t know sir. She hasn’t told me.” “You don’t know where you are taking her?” “No sir, “ I say with enough force to match his. He realizes I’m not going to be bullied and he walks away back towards the house. Being somewhat of a champion for women, I was not going to let him push me around. This was my taxi. I thought of it as my house. I had to protect myself. I was proud of sticking up for myself but now I was concerned for the woman who had asked me to wait.

When she finally came back to the van, she was alone. This was odd. Usually when especially a female leaves in a taxi, the group of people will go with her to the taxi and check out the taxi driver to make sure she is safe. Nobody was coming to the van to see this woman off. I knew something was wrong.

Immediately after she closes the van door, she tells me, “Drive. Please. Quickly.” Now, I might be a champion for women, but I also know just because you are a woman, that doesn’t mean I can trust you. I was worried about being setup by a woman for an ambush. I was worried about her taking advantage of me and not paying. I was already on guard from the whole situation.

Also, in the taxi business, it’s a bad sign if people don’t tell you where they are going. Sometimes people just want you to drive so that they can assault you on the way. I knew I had to take control of the situation. I told her, “Hey, wait a minute. I need to receive the payment first and I need to know where you are going.”

“I’ll pay you. I promise. Just drive. I need to get away from here.”

I tell her, “Fine, I’ll drive a few blocks and pull over and then you can pay me first. And then tell me where you are going.” She agrees and I start confirming the price of the trip with her. I relax a little because she doesn’t seem concerned at all about how much the trip is going to cost and she is working on getting her cash out to give to me. Usually if someone is up to no good, they will try to bluff you into believing they didn’t know how much the trip was going to cost, or that the dispatcher quoted them a difference price, etc.

I drove a few blocks and then pulled over in the dark on the side of the road. She gave me the money and then asked me again to drive. I asked her again where she was going and she just said, “I’ll let you know. Just turn to the right.” We turned onto the main road and headed back towards the city so I was not as scared. I figured if she was leading me to an ambush, it would have been deeper into the country versus off a main road headed to the city.

I was starting to relax but I was not going to let her just drive me around aimlessly. She seemed sincere but I needed more information. I started asking her, “What is going on?”

She started telling me that she had been studying in medical school in Chicago. She was only a semester or two away from graduating when her mother called her from India and advised her that she was being married off to a man in Texas in an arranged marriage. She had never met the man before. She was expected to leave medical school in Chicago and move to Texas and get married. So that’s what she did.

After she was married and arrived in Texas, the new husband and his family put her to work in the gas station that they owned. This was no corporate gas station. This was one of those little gas station dumps out in the middle of the country. She said they violated all the labor laws and she was stuck at the gas station working all kinds of hours. Then when she came back to the family compound, the family treated her like a slave and she was expected to spend her time at home doing housework. Here she was about to graduate from medical school and now reduced to a slave working for strangers.

As she is telling me this story, all of a sudden, what do I see in the rear-view mirror? “Lexus lights!” I’m sure it was the same white car that had followed me so many miles on the way to her house. Before I even had time to think about what was happening, the Lexus races up next to the side of the van and starts honking and driving erratically. I felt like I was in an action movie!

I was scared but somehow incredibly calm. She wasn’t reacting at all. In a very surreal moment, I turned and asked her, “Do you know these people!?!?”

In my mind, I’m thinking her in-laws have tracked us down and are going to run me off the road and kill us both in some kind of twisted honor killing.

She calmly responds, “Yes, follow them.” I have no idea how to explain it, but I trusted her. The Lexus speeds up and I switch lanes and follow it. Almost immediately, the Lexus pulls off the main road and onto a dirt road.

I’m thinking, “Great, a dirt road. Of course it’s a dirt road. This is like a bad B movie. Is this how my life is going to end?”

I ask the passenger, “What’s going on?” She tells me that these people in the Lexus are friends she met at church and they are helping her escape. For some reason I believed her. I assume that she didn’t want this couple to drive to her former residence for fear that her in-laws would find out who was helping her.

The Lexus drives over a cattle guard and stops in the middle of the pitch black night in a literal field in the middle of the country. The only lights are the headlights of our vehicles.

A man and a woman step out of the Lexus. The man wastes no time in approaching the taxi and opening the van door and helping the woman out of the back seat. I somehow decide that I feel safe enough to exit the vehicle and open the trunk so they can retrieve her luggage. The woman from the Lexus comforts my passenger as the man takes her luggage back to his vehicle. He tells me thank you and they all get into the Lexus and drive away quickly.

I’m left by myself in the middle of some random cow pasture in the pitch black night. I catch my senses and drive away as quickly as possible to get back to the city.

I call my dispatcher and I tell him to please not give out my name or number to anyone who might call it for that trip. I was worried her in-laws were going to track me down once they realized that their free labor had escaped.

In the end, I felt honored. That I would be provided that opportunity to help a woman escape from bondage.

On this Valentine’s Day, remember that you are still loved, still important, and still matter even if you don’t have a romantic significant other.

If I Die Then I Die

To start, I love living and am in no way interested in dying. Read more for the explanation of the title of this post.

Today I was reminded of the story of Esther. I was reminded that Esther started out as an orphan. Raised by someone else. Then chosen to be Queen. But in some ways probably feeling abandoned all over again. The story reminds us that Esther noted that her husband hadn’t called on her for I think over 30 days. And so she is Queen but probably still feeling like that little girl that is alone in the world. After so much excitement. Probably hope also. Maybe this is my deliverance. Maybe this is my forever story. Being chosen. Not just another season of disappointment. “God, I thought we were going a certain direction?” It must have felt like such a let down. Then fear on top of fear. Being asked to lay her life down in order to attempt to protect others. She gets to the point where she decides to act in accordance with letting all of her dreams go. She says something to the effect of, “If I die then I die.”

I think now of Abraham. Told that he and Sarah would have a child. Years and years go by. No child. Then he finally has the child and is asked to sacrifice the child. Not literally. That isn’t the point of the story. But while he was going through it, that is what he saw. Here you give me this promise God, and then I have to let it go. God prevailed in a powerful way, but the theme is similar to Esther.

I think of Moses. Same thing. Promised he would lead his people out. Then off to the desert until he was an old man. Tending sheep. No hope in sight. He gets to the point where he doesn’t even want the call anymore. In a way. He tells God to send someone else who he thinks would be more qualified.

David. Told he would be king. Then he has to deal with Saul trying to kill him over and over. Running and hiding in caves. Not living the life he probably associated with being a king.

Joseph. Given a dream. Then shipped off for years and years. Enduring so much unfair treatment.

All of them having to get to the point where they know they were given a promise, but having to accept their current circumstances as is. Having to let go and trust the timing to God. Trust the way to God.

I can relate. I don’t feel like I see the full picture yet. There are probably so many things happening right now that will only make sense later. Right now the suffering blinds me to the bigger picture. Blinds me to anything other than wanting relief. I empathize with those who sought solutions and resolutions. Who fight against the pressure.

I feel like I can continue to wear myself out. I can continue to cry and carry on. I can panic. Or I can let go and trust God. I can seek Him inside my heart.

Silence is torturous for me. I don’t want to hear all my fears. But tonight for a few minutes I ran out of things to distract me.

I tried to sit with God. I told Him I was angry at Him and disappointed. He already knew. I felt like He assured me that He wasn’t angry or disappointed with me.

I felt a brief settling. More like a child who is too exhausted to fight anymore. Not giving up the battle for control. But too tired to take up arms.

I felt again like I have so many times before, absolute assurance of being loved by God. And the kind encouragement to trust. That I am not alone, that there is more going on than meets the eye, that good things are in the future, and that this is not the end.

I rely on the testimonies of those we read about to give me any hope that these things are true.

My new motto is to lessen the self-imposed stress I put on myself. I don’t yet understand why, but a big part of that is letting go. Of the compulsion to be “great” or do “great” things. Of the pressure to be “successful” as society defines success. Of the need to do anything other than try to be the best person I can be to myself and others. Starting with mastering the basics first.

It is both sad and ok. Sad in that I have spent so many years driven by this need to perform, be perfect, and excel. The ego part of me mourns letting myself down in that respect. But on the other hand, it is also ok. Suddenly I can enjoy a day, I can genuinely enjoy a rest. I can take the time to appreciate a meal for simply being appealing and delicious. Versus analyzing the macros that will tilt the balance of my plans for world domination. I speak facetiously to the extreme to prove a point.

This letting go feels like a good thing in the long run. As completely uncomfortable as I feel even in releasing so little at a time. It feels like I am finally handing the wheel over to God and saying, “Will you drive?” Not in a legalistic sense. But rather like when you finally are getting to know someone and letting them in. My heart. Not just my mind.

I anticipate more adventures are ahead. Now that I don’t have my checkboxes to manage, I can better enjoy the ride.