The Unknown Waters of Trust©

“He calls me out upon the waters, the great unknown where feet may fail.” “And there I find you in the mystery, in oceans deep my faith will stand.”

“Your grace abounds in deepest waters, Your Sovereign hand will be my guide”                       “Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me,  You’ve never failed, You won’t start now.”

“So I will call upon your name and keep my eyes above the waves”                                                “When oceans rise my soul will rest in your embrace, For I am yours and you are mine.”

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders.  Let me walk upon the waters wherever you will call me.  Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.”   ©Hillsong United “Oceans”

What a year this has been with twists and turns I never anticipated.   Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined both my husband and I would be unemployed at the same time.  In June, David was left with no option but to leave his job due to an unethical situation.  In July God closed the door on mine.

David was given a job, 2 months into his unemployment, at a pay rate much less than was needed.  I started a company of my own that is financially unpredictable. When each month begins I have no idea what my income will be.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have seen myself starting this business.  It’s not like me to throw caution to the wind and step out in uncertain financial waters.  Yet there was a yearning deeply implanted in me that drove me forward.  He called me out upon the waters to find Him in the mystery of it all.

Money has always been one of my greatest struggles.  Having too much money is not what I battle, it’s the fear of how it will all work out when it doesn’t appear we will have enough. My mind starts the calculations of the bills versus the income and what it comes up with troubles me.  How can it possibly all work?  The fear takes over so easily and I begin to falter. I become like Peter who sank into the waters as the great wind and waves captured his attention.

So much of what we walk through in our lives is beyond our understanding and yet God knows exactly where we are.  He knows the good that will come out of the unchartered waters of this life.  He invites us out upon the waters where great unknowns dwell.  He knows we will find Him in the mystery.   In that mystery, we start to get a sense of our true belonging.  This is my story.

It’s been about 5 months since I stepped out.  Each month I wonder how it will all work out.  My feet falter and I get afraid.  But that’s the beauty of it all.  It’s in those moments of fear He surrounds me and I allows me to see this beautiful grace.

He picks me up and holds me close as He whispers, “Jewel, do you trust me?”

It’s much like the conversations I have with my sweet 5-year-old grand girl.  I find her worried and agitated about something.  I listen to her with the knowledge that it’s all going to be OK.  I can see the bigger picture that she is unable to see.  I reassure her that I will take care of her and this thing that scares her.    She sits unsettled until the moment when her choice has to be made.  “Aviah, will you trust me?”  “Do you believe MeMe will take care of you?” As she answers back “yes, MeMe, I trust you” the door is opened for her faith in me to grow. She begins to see that I am hers and she is mine.

So it is with me, and with you.

Jesus stands beside me, with His arm wrapped around me.  There sits the checkbook and the list of bills.  We pick it up and look at it all together as He whispers, “It’s OK, Jewel, I’ve got this” “will you trust me?” It’s the moment of choice that makes the difference. “Yes, Jesus, I can trust you.”  The door opens for my faith to be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.

As I am with Aviah, He is with me.  I am His and He is mine.

Every month I am amazed at what He does.  His grace abounds in deepest waters. His Sovereign hand will be my guide.  He’s never failed.  He won’t start now.

This is the promise of God to me, to you, to us all.

©copyrighted Julie L. Todd 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Rescued Again©

As I sit to write, fog blankets the mountain as rain waters the dry earth.  We’ve been in one of the longest droughts in the southeast in years.  Unusually high temperatures throughout the fall season have not helped.  Wildfires have been prevalent in these parts, something we are unaccustomed to.  There has been so much damage in East Tennessee through the hands of negligent people playing with fire.

You never know what a year will bring.

We began to wonder if rain would ever return to our state and today it has.  Though its chilling to the bone it’s a breath of fresh air to this dry, weary land.   There’s something peaceful that emanates out of the sound of the falling rain.  It brings a sense of soothing rest as the dry, cracked soil soaks up what’s been desperately needed.

I’m often amazed at how my life correlates with the world around me.  To say I have experienced a drought in my life would be an understatement.  Things have happened in this last couple of years that left me dry, weary and lost.   My response has been to do what I’m prone to do, pull myself up by my bootstraps and push forward.

I am reminded of a picture that illustrates the years of my religious life.  Imagine a climbing wall with its hand and foot holds.  Soon as the climber grasps one hold he is dependent on finding the next or he will fall to the ground.

Both of my sons enjoy rock climbing.  I once went and watched them in a competition. There were 3 walls that graduated with difficulty.  The climber would start at the bottom and work his way up.  The higher he climbed the more achieved he became.  I watched as my sons pushed forward, straining for that next hold. Sometimes they would reach it and other times they would pummel to the ground.  The higher they got the more difficult it became.

So it is with the ways of religion, something I’ve been accustomed to, something I’m being weaned of.  Religion puts the work on you.  That’s not the way of the gospel.  You see Jesus offers an elevator with a free ride.  He is, after all, the way.  There is no self climbing involved,  just a ride with Jesus.  I have often missed the ride.

I heard it said that to truly be safe in God’s love you have to realize how small you’ve made Him and experience Him in His endless power, strength and glory.  It’s part of what has transpired in this year of my drought.  I have come face to face with my small belief.

There is a story from a few years back that gives a window into what my world has been. One fall day in 1987, an 18 month old toddler fell into an abandoned well.  One hidden step and she was down in a cold, dark hole.  Her name was Jessica.  It took 58 hours of working day and night to rescue her.

That’s how traps are.  One hidden step and you are down.  It’s where these hard years had led me.  Where was God anyways?  Why wasn’t He doing something?  Somehow I had to survive this.  I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and grabbed for the hold to pull myself up.  I inadvertently forced myself back on that wall.  The climb was arduous.  I saw no elevator with Jesus waiting.  I was too focused on what was going on around me.

I had no clue what I was doing to myself until one day a song exposed me in my darkness.

“Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you.  It is well”.   As I listened the tears welled up in my eyes.  For the first time in my life I could not say, “it is well” because I knew He had me.  I couldn’t say “God is good”..

Suddenly, much like baby Jessica, I became aware of the dark hole that had swallowed me. I was stuck.  By my own doing, I was trapped.

In that moment I experienced how small I had made God.   When God didn’t perform as I expected I lost sight of His goodness.  I took things upon myself.  I stopped riding the elevator.

When we expect God to prove our value in the midst of our circumstances we will be sorely disappointed.  It’s impossible, for the standard we use is man-made.  He failed me because I made up the rules.

I stopped believing and trusting that He was for me.  I fell down into the dark, cold well.  I made God small.  I inadvertently placed myself back on the rock wall of religious striving when I became dependent on myself and my bootstraps.

It’s been a few months now since my rescue.  Life has returned to these dry bones.  My circumstances haven’t changed much.  It’s still a very challenging time of life.  But I’ve put down my climbing shoes.  I’m riding in the elevator with Jesus.  He is the very breath of life that puts my feet in front of the other.

He is the life that swells within me.  He is my ride. He is my journey.

It is well with me.

@copyrighted Julie L. Todd

 

 

The Cries of a Child©

The transition that has occurred in my life has left me wondering many things. I have been through such a purging of all things religious that many days I sit dumbfounded and wonder who I am.  On those days I find myself uncertain of God’s activity in my life.  It’s been a long time since I have sat with pen and paper, words pouring out from Him to me. There have been subtle nudges, but nothing like I was accustomed to when I was doing all the things a good Christian should do.

It leaves me often to wonder where He is in all of this.  I’ve been talking to Him about it recently, asking Him to show me where He has been in the midst of my hard days.

Today, out of nowhere, I sat down to look over this blog.  I was made aware of 14 drafts that I had started and stopped, never publishing.  One in particular caught my eye today. It was from 4 years ago.  I was waiting the birth of my 1st grand.  I was reminiscing  back to the days when I first became a mom.

There was so much uncertainty.  I had heard it expressed that a mother knows the different cries of her child.  I couldn’t fathom how that could happen.  As I sat anticipating my daughter’s horizon I realized how deeply it had happened.  I had, after all, learned the cries of my children.

I learned the cry that revealed they were in pain.  I knew the tears of their anger.   Whimpers in the night awakened me instantly to their needs. I knew when to stand outside the room and listen.  I learned when to rush in to hold them tight.  Though my responses  were different at times, when my child cried out I heard them each and every time.

Each individual situation determined my action towards their tears. The cries of pain sent me running, while their tears of weariness often left me standing just outside the door listening.  As I waited, the cries would lead them to a place of exhaustion where their bodies surrendered to a place of sweet rest, a rest they desperately needed.

Remembering this picture today hits a spot for me.   I think He’s answering my question.

As I’ve moved away from all my religious practices He has seemed so absent.  I have felt so wrong.  I lived the bulk of my life responsible for the relationship with Him.  When I stopped the things I had always done, everything around me began to change.

It’s easier when I was doing all the “supposed to” things to feel the presence of God near me.   But I’m seeing now that it left me in a feeling based life.  I felt good when I was doing all the right things.  As I did what I was told to do I felt like the obedient, godly child in right standing.   When I was not,  I felt bad, dirty, wrong.

I’ve come to realize that I have nothing to do with my right standing.  It’s caused me to lay down the “supposed to’s” of this life.   More days I spend silently believing than loudly declaring or beseeching.  It is a great contrast to the years of living out of rules and regulations.

I walk naked before Him.  I come with nothing to offer.  I come simply because I believe.  I am not fulfilling obligations.  I am a pile on the floor, emptied of the driving force of my good behavior.  The hardest part is the absence of feelings that once led me forward.   As I’ve cried I’ve not seen Him come running.  It’s left me confused to say the least.  It can easily exacerbate the wrong feelings I have.

Today I was reminded of the days I stood outside the door of my child.  I longed to go in and get them yet knew if I did it would prolong what they needed;  rest.  So I waited outside.  I was never far from them.  I was right there, listening, attentively to the sounds emanating from their tiny bodies.  Nothing could stop that.

As I ponder this old blog post something settles inside me.  Could it be that on my  long nights of pain as I cried out He stood just outside the door waiting, as I did with my own? Could it be it’s what I needed the most?  As I remember the days with my own I am left to wonder.  Has He been standing outside the door allowing the weariness to take over my soul leading to lead me to a new place of rest?

This is a game changer for me.  May it be for you too.

@copyrighted 2016 Julie H. Todd

 

Being present in the pain©

Some days the hours are long and hard on this earth.  It’s difficult enough to walk them yourself, it’s much harder to watch your offspring.  My son is walking through things he never thought he’d face in his life. The details aren’t important to state here.  It’s how his life teaches me that brings me to write.

A few nights back the texts started rolling in.  His heart was spilling out through the words that flowed. The pain of this broken world he faced was coming out like pus from an infected wound.  It wasn’t pretty, it was raw and real.  He needed a safe place to let it flow. He chose me.

It wasn’t long into the conversation that I began to start with “helpful” responses.  Truth is I didn’t know what to do with the poison sin had left.  It was way above me.  I felt the need to have some answers to give to him to move him towards life.  I offered one word after another.

The texts suddenly stopped.  “talk to me” I said. “Mom, I just need you to be here with me, to let me express what’s pinned up inside me.”  “I just need you to listen.”   He wanted to be safe to let it all out. I heard him loud and clear.

I know the avenue only too well.  It has been my road.  Hard things have hit my life in these last few years.  So much has been stuck inside me that I didn’t even know.  It often comes out through the rantings.  It is the pus that has gathered infecting my life from the years of neglected pain.

When I was a child I had boils.  On rare occasions I was taken to the doctor to have them surgically lanced.  If you’ve never had a boil you won’t know the pain that occurs.  The last thing you want is anything touching it, much less a sharp, pointed needle.  In those moments when the pain is imminent the presence of another truly makes the difference.  A hand held, a back rubbed, a listening ear, a caring, soothing word, all acts of love that make a difference.

In the moments of my storms it’s what I have needed most.  Because it is love that opens the door for the buried pain to spill out.

It is what my son needs too.  Truth is it’s what we all need.

What is it that makes me feel the burden to have the answers for the person who finds themselves in duress. What do I say?  How do I answer?  What do I do with where they are?  How do I help them out of this mess?  Bearing that burden can cause even the most loving not to be present.

I am reminded of a scene in the movie, “Forrest Gump”.  Bubba Blue, has been wounded.  Forrest grabs him up and carries him out of the open fire.  He holds him in his arms while Bubba asks, “why did this happen”.  Forrest stays present while the pain has its way with Bubba’s body.  He listens, he cares, he loves.  He can’t stop the pain.  He can’t heal the wound.  He can’t change what has happened to Bubba. He simply and only can be love to a person in that moment..   Isn’t that what we all need?

There is only one who can heal the broken heart.  He alone calms the raging storm in me.  It is His hand that holds the scalpel that lances the wounds.   It is the only one who can do anything about the pain that blankets the soul.  I can offer what I have, His love in me.

When my son’s pain becomes a mystery to me I want to offer what I have, the ever-present God of love.

We all need Forrest’s in our lives.  We need people to sit through the mess of the pus that is left in the portals of our being from sin’s infection.  Real hurt occurs through the choices of others.  We need safe places to discover what that hurt is.  That’s what happens in the conversations where life becomes honest and real.  The pent-up pain oozes its way out. It’s part of the mess that brings the healing.

In that moment there is only One who can make the difference.  He lives in me.  He loves through me.

Bear one another’s burdens, Paul said.  In my humanity it will not happen.  I will run.  I will hide.  I will not offer the comfort of God but feel the need to offer the wisdom of man.  The more I see this, the more I am made aware of how deeply I need Christ’s life to be lived through me.

May the cry of my heart as I bear another up be, “God, how do you want to love through me, right now, in this moment.”

It is, I’m convinced, all there is.

©copyrighted 2015 Julie L Todd

 

 

The Religious Fog©

I live up on a mountain.  When the rains come, the fog follows along, sometimes dense, sometimes light. Visibility becomes difficult as I inch my way along the street towards home.  Sometimes the drive is scary, at best, as the thickness of the fog is great.   Finding the street that leads to my drive becomes a challenge.

Once the rain subsides the fog dissipates to clear, crisp fresh air, a washing to the earth around me.  I can’t get over the clearness of the blue skies after a rain.  Everything appears to be washed anew.

Life in this spiritual world has been that for me.  For many years a veil of religion blanketed my life making visibility difficult, at best.  All I knew was what I had been told.  I’m coming to find out that what I was told often wasn’t what was real about the God I have known.

Moments in life come that lift the fog of poor theology, revealing the depth of the riches of God’s amazing grace.  Such was the case a few days ago.

I had been told for as long as I could remember that God couldn’t hear me if I had sin in my heart.  I remember the days that I agonized with fear of the possibly I had missed something.  It was especially critical when I had a big decision to make.  I wanted to talk to God and I wanted to make certain He heard me.  I couldn’t run the risk of not hearing His voice and making the wrong choice.  I was fixated on every move I had made, hoping that I would remember everything.

As I sat to consider, my mind played through the days that had passed.  I went as far back as my mind would take me, considering my every step, my every word. I confessed until I couldn’t think of anything else.  I even re-confessed things I’d already asked forgiveness for, just in case.  It felt like a noose around my neck, dragging me into the pits of despair.  What if I missed one?

I needed for God to hear me.  I wanted to be in His will on the decision before me.  If He couldn’t hear me then I would be left to myself.  Of course it would be my own fault.   After all had I not sinned in the first place, I wouldn’t be in this predicament of wracking my brain.

Those ways of religion beat me up and kept me down for too many years.  But now, the veil is lifting and I can see.

I often have epiphanies in the midst of loving my own.  I sat with the question.  Would I be that way with my child?  Never, no not ever.  No matter what my child had done, I would never turn my back. Love will not allow me to do that and I am made in the image of the God who is love.  Some would argue that the holiness of God will not allow Him to look on sin.  That just doesn’t match up to His character displayed throughout the pages of scripture.

It leaves me to wonder how,  in this economy of Christ following, did we become so sin focused?  Where did the teachers and scribes lose sight of the picture of God?  He sent His son to redeem us from sin, to pay the cost, to bridge the gap.  Why would He stand back and wait for us to get it all right in order to be present?  After all it’s why Jesus died, to bridge the gap, to open the door, to be the way for man to be restored.

While I was still a sinner, Christ died for me.  That verse in itself disputes the false teaching that God cannot hear my voice when sin is present in my life.

When Jesus said “it is finished” it was.  All that sin had done was atoned for, past, present and future. All sin was forgiven.  The veil in the temple was torn in two, opening the way for all to enter in and be in the presence of God, forever.

Suddenly everything was different.  It was no longer about my sin.  It is about a God who loved so fiercely that He sent His son to bring me back home where I belong.

©copyrighted 2015

 

 

Jet Cadet for Jesus

The song is implanted in my mind.  I can see Mrs. Albright standing in front of us directing us with all the vigor she had in her aged body.

“Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, Zoom” “We are jet cadets for Jesus.” “We are pilots for our Lord.” “We have     heard the call for action.” “And we’ll serve with accord.” “Come and join our happy crew” “As we sail into the sky” “We’re on our way to heaven.” “And we’ll fly, fly, fly”

I was in the Jet Cadet program training to be a “pilot for our Lord.”  As I learned and recited the assigned memory work I gained access to higher ranks.  The focus was on being a good soldier, a good cadet.  I carried this mentality with me throughout the bulk of my Christian life.  It was the only understanding I had about this thing called Christianity.  I had joined the Lord’s army.

A statement was made and another place of deception was exposed.  “Believers know their identity, unbelievers don’t.”  It should be how it is, but that had not been my experience in the church communities I had traveled in.  It was not my reality.

I spent more than 40 years as a believer in community and had no real clue of what identity meant.  No one spoke much of it.  I heard of the love and the wrath of God.  I heard what was expected of me, what a good soldier would do for his commander.  I was to show up, be on my best behavior, follow all the rules.  The commander would show up and give me my marching orders.

My understanding of it all was much like what I knew of the military.  There was a commanding officer and there were different branches.  Each had a role they played.  I was in the Presbyterian branch of this great army.  There was a pastor in place over me and elders and deacons set in place to protect the flock, which included me.  I was merely a soldier in basic training.  As I learned I would grow more skilled.

I memorized the scriptures I excelled at Bible drills.  I learned my catechism.  In later years I learned to have a quiet time in the early morning hours because that would prove my allegiance to my God.

I did all I was told to do and still I was so very lost.

What I needed in those years of following God I did not get.  I needed to hear about what had actually happened to my life.  Instead, I got a basic training regiment to make me a jet cadet for Jesus.  As a result I was led into some of the darkest hours of my existence.

I entered the gerbil wheel of religious striving where my performance mattered.   A ruler was virtually placed in my hands in which to measure my spirituality.  Everything was about bringing God glory. I always came up short.

I’ve been in a process of coming out from behind the veil.  Now that the religious shroud has been removed I can clearly see the deceit of it all.  Years of taking in the old covenant with a little seasoning of the new covenant distorted what really happened on that day at Calvary.

A new way of living came to this earth.  The old covenant with its demands and expectations was fulfilled, never to be lived again.  It was sealed and put away as history. A new way began, one which involved a new covenant where all expectations for godliness was completed.  Jesus said “it is finished” because it was.  The works and demands of the Old Covenant are no more.

Christ, the living, breathing, complete God now lives inside me.  All that I am not, He is.  For many years I missed both parts of this gospel message.  Part one was that I was forgiven at the cross, but part two is that I was made new at the resurrection.  This is the mystery that Paul speaks of that has eluded so many of us for so long.  New life, new identity, new dna where all the strategies and demands required of me are no more.

I no longer have to try to “bring glory to God” as a work of my effort.  The glory of God lives in the very sinews of my being.  I have been crucified with Christ.  All the dead works of my flesh, the efforts and should’s and have to’s are no more.  I no longer live, but Christ now lives in me.  I am invited to live by His efforts alone.  I am righteous no matter what I do because He made me right.

In that moment, when the resurrected Christ walked out of that tomb, a work began in me.  It is His work alone.  It is His to complete.

I am not a jet cadet for Jesus.  I am the embodiment of the living God.  This changes everything.

@copyrighted:  Julie L Todd; 2015

 

 

 

The Times, they are a changing…©

I found my way back here today.  I was stunned to see the time that had passed. Much has transpired on this long and winding road.  Much of what I have written here in years past I would not write today. The road I started on ended at an impasse. A new path appeared.  It’s why I’ve been away for so long. I’ve not really known how to start afresh here.

I am reminded of the scripture that says that you cannot pour new wine into old wineskins. The Old Covenant was fulfilled once for all, giving way to the New Covenant to begin. It was not meant for them to be mixed together.  One was before Christ the other was after. I’m convinced He was trying to tell us this in Mark 2:.  I never really understood that scripture, but now it all makes sense to me.  “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” Mark 2:22.

You just can’t mix the old with the new, the new will be lost. My life tells that story. Years of old theology of should’s and ought’s were the wineskin I tried to pour the life of Christ in me, into. All it did was mix everything up, losing the truth.  It is not how I will live any longer.

I have left the ways of religion behind.  I never left God, in all these years, simply and only I left the religious indoctrination, the ways of the should’s and ought to’s . My head has been filled with wrong theology.  I basically was taught, inadvertently, how to become my own god.   My godly life was up to me and how I lived it out.  There is so much wrong that has been implanted in my mind that it’s been hard to know what is right. My self effort defined who I was after all.  The harder I worked, the more I was acceptable to be a child of God.

My performance and striving became like a well-loved security blanket.  Without it I have felt laid bare in the bowels of the dark night.

It’s amazing how dependent you can be upon yourself to do the right thing.  When that is taken away, suddenly you are made aware of just how lost you really are.  What you thought being a Christian was all about is not, in actuality, what it is.

Every time I hear the song it brings a haunting to my soul.  “You call me out upon the waters, the great unknown where feet may fail.”  “And there I find you in the mystery; in oceans deep; my faith will stand.”

What happens in the bowels of the deep blue sea anyways?  Google gave me some answers.

There is no light in the depths, therefore deep-sea creatures have cells in their bodies that produce light.  Most of their bodies are transparent and soft. The light inside guides them on.

I used to ask God to take me into the depths.  I had no idea it would be like this.  I pictured a woman with fervor and passion going after the things of God.  It’s what I was trained should happen.   What happened instead was that the bowels of my theology had to be disemboweled.  He called me out upon the waters, “where feet may fail and fear surrounds me.” My feet failed me.  I had to be carried out by His hand alone.

As a result I am finding the mystery of the newness of the life of Christ living in me.  He is the cell of light that leads me forward.  It is his life in me that attained everything I tried to obtain, setting me free to live in the beauty of two woven together as one.  No longer do I have to try to figure out how to decrease so that Christ might increase.

I watched a video the other day of a caterpillar spinning its cocoon.  Soon after another video was posted of the monarch emerging out of the same cocoon. I have always loved butterflies, especially monarchs.  The process of transformation is fascinating. The old writings of my past are of my caterpillar life.  May you witness the exquisite life of a butterfly emerging from this day forward.

Beautiful things have happened in the dark of my night.

The life I once knew and lived has been removed.  I am more aware than ever of the living organism of His light that leads me on.   It is His life alone. There is nothing else.

©copyrighted Julie L. Todd 2015