Christ's Glory, Not Mine

by science fiction author Andrea J. Graham

From Broken to Set-Apart

When I began meal planning, I bought an awesome set of 32oz BPA-Free deli containers to store freezer meals in. Initially, I made them peel-off labels with contents and dates. After several months, the novelty wore off, and my inattentive-type ADD declared my labeling system was too complicated. I surrendered to my weak flesh and fell into just shoving the leftovers in the freezer without labels. When not labeling stored food led to irritating problems, I got out my Sharpie and wrote on one tub, thinking it’d be permanent. To my delight, it washed off, after all. Victory, an efficient labeling system that accommodates ADD! (Note: using a Sharpie is the right way to label leftovers. I had made it too complicated.)

Anyway, awhile back, I bought a new dish drying rack that lacked a silverware compartment. I missed that feature and decided to make a silverware drying tub. So I took one of my deli containers and poked holes in the bottom with a sharp knife, pictured above. Presto, the wet silverware goes in, and the water drains out the bottom.

Recently, the Holy Spirit nudged me about that tub. If it could think, it would conclude it is broken and useless, but it isn’t. It’s been set apart by its owner for a specific purpose.

Of course, we’re not really talking about my hacked deli container. When we have a condition like ADD, we feel broken and may even fear we’re useless. But God uses our brokenness to set us apart for him.

Quick caveat—I have put other deli containers to use as tools to organize my kitchen stuff. I have pierced none of my kitchen stuff holders. Yet they are just as set apart. You don’t have to be “broken” to be separated to God for a specific purpose.

Still, our brokenness is useful to God. If we seek to stop surrendering to it and let God use it to teach us to depend on his power. As 2 Corinthians 12:10 (ESV) says, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.”


Affiliate links are included for your convenience, in case my enthusiasm for these nifty tubs is contagious.


Hope at a Dead End

 

Gentle Reader, please share this with a friend that this could speak to. This is for the brother or sister whose gotten bad news about their career, health, or a family matter.

You feel stuck at a dead end, watching dreams crumble in the midst of the daily grind. Maybe pain and fear binds you, keeps you stuck in less than all you could be. Maybe you’ve pushed ahead in your goals as far as physical limits will allow. Maybe it’s not simply the voice of our own emotions screaming “you’ll never win.” Maybe a human authority is telling you that the odds are against you and they’re not ever getting any better.

There are no guarantees in this life. God doesn’t owe us anything, least of all miracles. “God works all things for our good.” But not all things in life are good. “God is for us, so who can be against us?” Yet we won’t win every battle. At some point, God is going to let us lose a battle with death itself. If we remain in the faith, God does turn even the ultimate loss of death into our ultimate victory, eternal life with Christ. Remembering that can help us face the prospect of painful losses with hope and fight on.

The nature of faith is uncertainty. God is faithful to God’s word. If the Bible says God promised to do it, God will do it. Yet many promises are conditional on us acting by faith. And applying the Bible’s promises to specific situations isn’t always easy. And it can be even more challenging to hear the voice of the Lord clearly. We need a humble awareness our heart’s strong desires can cause us to misunderstand. I pray God changes our hearts from desiring what isn’t God’s will to desiring what is God’s will.

But at your dead end, remember we serve the God who led Israel out of Egypt, straight into a dead end.

Picture it. The Red Sea before the Children of Israel, and the armies of Egypt behind them. Trapped. Impossible to go forward into freedom. Impossible to escape the master bent on dragging them back into slavery. Yet God commanded Moses: “Tell the children of Israel to go forward. But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.” (Exodus 14:15b-16)

By faith, Moses obeyed the Lord, and the sea parted. By faith, the children of Israel went forward.

God overcame Israel’s dead end.

I can’t guarantee the desire of your heart is in line with God’s. I can’t guarantee your goals and plans are indeed the Lord’s plans. Still, when you come to closed doors that are unlikely to open, knock. Pray. Let God lead you to the best of your knowledge and discernment. And knock on the closed doors you encounter.

God can move mountains. God can give you favor and blessing beyond measure. If it is God’s will, knock, and the door will be opened. If it doesn’t open, it only means that specific door wasn’t right at that specific time. Keep trying other doors until God changes your heart or shows you another path. Or takes you home forever.

Don’t assume an open door is God’s will, either. Not everyone who opens a door when you knock is acting in accord with God’s will.

So let’s act by faith, aware of our natural limits, and aware of what God can do if God pleases to do it. Let’s weep and cry aloud as needed. Let’s praise and lift our hands in worship and sincere thanksgiving as the Spirit moves in us. Let’s pray carefully about the opportunities that do come to make sure they are God’s will.

But I believe the “dead end” in your life isn’t the end. One way or another, in this life or the next, God has so much more for you.


Easy Cilantro Chicken Vegetable Soup

Based on a South Beach Phase 1 Recipe, tastes like a Mexican/Latin dish

Makes 4-6 servings in 30-40 minutes

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
½ large red onion, chopped
½ tsp crushed red pepper
½ tsp chili powder
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp salt, black pepper
4 cups chicken broth
1-2 boneless, skinless, raw chicken breasts
2-3 zucchini, sliced, halved
1 lb frozen chopped kale
1 cup salsa
1 cup V8 (or use more salsa)
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
¼ cup lime juice (optional)

Directions

Prep all fresh vegetables. Defrost the chicken. Slice the raw chicken across the narrow end. Cut each slice into very thin strips, about ¼ inch thick. Mix the garlic, peppers, salt, chili, and cumin together in a small bowl.

Heat oil over medium heat in large cast iron skillet or your usual soup pot. Sauté onion for 5 minutes. Add chicken and the spices mixture. Stir over high heat until no longer pink and starting to brown. Add the zucchini, sauté over medium, stirring, about four minutes. Add kale or spinach, stir another 1-3 minutes.

Pour in the broth gradually, bring to a slow boil. Add in the salsa and V8 (if using), stir, bring back to a slow boil. Remove from heat. Stir in cilantro and lime juice.

The recipe is dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free. Low-carb, clean eating friendly (use organic.)

Vegetarian/Vegan alternative: omit the chicken. Replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth. After pouring in the broth, add 1.5 cups of *cooked* brown rice and 1.5 cups of *cooked* black beans, drained. Follow rest of recipe as written.

Easy Cilantro Chicken Vegetable Soup PDF (print version)

 


The Farmer’s Impatient Daughter

photo credit: yaxchibonam Dark orchard / Huerta oscura via photopin (license)

Once a little girl lived with a cult that kept her locked inside, chained to her computer all day, hungry and naked. She couldn’t do any serious study. In fact, she couldn’t do anything but play games online. In her favorite game, she got to be a farmer and grow beautiful fruit trees. She figured out how to work the game so at least some trees were in bloom or ready to harvest at all times.

Finally, the police came and freed her from the cult’s hands. After many scary, confusing days, one morning, her greatest dream came true. A farmer took her home to live with him forever. On a real farm! The girl was so excited when she spotted the apple trees. She looked forward to the leaves growing back, the flowers blooming, and the apples appearing. Should only take a couple hours.

So, after lunch, she asked her new dad if they could go pick the apples.

Her new dad sent her a curious look. “Beloved, it’s winter.”

So? The girl wondered. In her game, she’d harvested her apples at least six times a day in winter, too.

Her dad let her go outside and explore the farm, and the girl ran straight to the apple orchard. To her dismay, they still looked as sad and barren as they had this morning.

The girl screamed and ran crying to her new dad. “They’re dead! The apple trees didn’t bloom and bear fruit. They’re dead We need to cut them down and plant new ones!”

“Beloved, our fruit trees aren’t evergreens. They sleep through our cold, dark winters.”

“Well, they need to wake their lazy butts up, blossom, and make the apples appear already.”

“It doesn’t work like that, beloved.”

“Of course it does! I’m an expert farmer in my favorite game. I know all about farming!”

Her dad restrained his amused grin and hugged her. “Come with me.” Her dad led her out to the apple orchard and lifted the child up so a branch was at her eye-level. “See here? See these tiny little buds?”

The girl scrutinized the seemingly lifeless apple tree branch. It did have tiny little brown buds.

“Those, beloved, are our asleep apple trees, growing our apples. It’ll look like no apples are growing if you check them every few hours or even every few days, but they are growing.”

“Why so slow? What’s wrong with them? What can I do to make them grow faster?”

“Nothing, beloved. This is life, not a game. Real growth is not instantaneous. Nor does it only take mere hours for the fruit they’re growing to appear and mature. There is no hack that will give you real apples ripe for harvest year-round, not as cold as our winters get. I know it’s hard to be patient, it’s hard to see real growth happening,  but slowly, day by day, the season will change, the days will get longer and warmer. In spring, the apple trees will blossom. Their fruit will mature by harvest time, this fall. Then we’ll pick our apples and wait on the Lord through the next cold, dark winter.”

~~

We may laugh at this poor child’s absurd expectations for real trees growing real fruit. But many of us react similarly when God leads us or a loved one into a spiritual “harsh winter.” We don’t understand what God is doing, especially when the season lasts far longer than we think it should.

It can be hard to tell on a daily basis if a soul enduring a harsh winter is in fact still alive and growing. Let’s be slower to condemn and cut down. Instead, let’s be more loving and encouraging like the farmer in our story. Stay with the Lord through the harsh winter of the soul. I don’t know why you’re going through this. But I know he is with you and still at work in you, even when you can’t see it. And all you have to do is let him. Faith itself is a gift. Just cry out to the Lord and ask. It likely won’t be instantaneous, but spring will come.


Why do abuse victims keep silent for years?

photo credit: Ömer Ünlü romantic sunset via photopin (license)

This question is being asked mostly in related to sexual assault victims coming forward. I won’t get into any of those cases. Politics and current events are not in my realm of expertise and this blog isn’t about current events or politics.

However, I do have an interest in abuse culture, otherwise known as the dynamics of a dysfunctional tribe. I would like to answer this question for those who sincerely want to know. And the church is made up of flawed humans, from many backgrounds, so it could help make peace in church disputes to offer up my understanding of how dysfunctional tribes operate. I have seen the survivors God has delivered from that toxic environment attacked in the church, too, for, say, “turning on” a fallen church leader after propping him up by covering up his secret, ongoing, unrepentant sin. So for those of you who sincerely want to know why a real victim may well wait years before shining light on deeds done in darkness, here’s why.

Keep in mind, this is a general answer on abuse culture and dysfunctional tribes. Not on simply sexual abuse. These dynamics can appear in all types of abuse and dysfunctional environments. A dysfunctional tribe can be anything from a family, a workplace, a group of hobbyists, a political party, or even a church.

First, a dysfunctional tribe has dysfunctional/abusive leadership. Abusers in general often, but not always, hold positions of power, these can include: parent, spouse, boss, teacher, coach, pastor, politician, doctor, and any other authorities a particular tribe may respect. Abusers holding important positions in the victim’s life often instill a real fear of the victim coming forward leading to the abuser harming the victim both directly and by turning the tribe against the victim. The abuser often succeeds at that. S/he often presents him or herself in public as a good guy/woman. One of the dysfunctional tribe’s rules is believing in and upholding this public image. This can be so ingrained, only neutral outsiders or members of an “enemy” tribe stand by the victim. The “enemy tribe” may be functional advocates for victims who truly help or another dysfunctional tribe just using the victim to advance their cause.

Abusers are usually found in dysfunctional tribes, and they usually target their own tribe members. Their victims are often brain-washed by the abuser and/or their tribe to keep silent. In such cultures, the victim coming forward, naming names especially, is deemed worse than what the abuser did. The tribe will defend the abuser and attack the victim, convinced the abuser is the real victim. The abuser convinces themselves and their tribe that they only hurt people who deserve it. In the tribe’s rules, it is often the tribe member’s responsibility to bow to the abuser’s every whim and manage their emotions for them. Until the victim gets outside the dysfunctional tribe, the victim may be unaware that managing the abuser’s emotions is solely the abuser’s own responsibility. It can take years for some victims to heal enough to accept it wasn’t their own fault, that they didn’t deserve treated like they were.

The abuser frequently will also insist the person coming forward has blown everything out of proportion, is making things up, or is crazy and imagining things, that nothing like that ever happened. Again, within the abuser’s tribe, this often seems reasonable and the victim often fears everyone will side with the abuser against them. An internal, God-given sense of fairness can set off alarm bells in victims’ minds but it is still an enormous relief the first time an outsider sees what’s going on and says we’re right, it did happen, we truly weren’t treated fairly by our tribe, and we haven’t blown it out of proportion, they are minimizing it.

So, within an abuser’s dysfunctional tribe, there is enormous pressure on the victims to keep silent and bolster the abuser’s ego and good person/perfect saint image. It is far too common for a dysfunctional tribe’s members to surrender to pressure to outright lie to protect the tribe and their dysfunctional leadership from their dysfunctional reality. Why? They don’t want to be abused, too, they don’t know how to fix the dysfunction and fear shining a light on the tribe’s actual dysfunctional reality will only lead to their cause failing and/or the tribe disintegrating. That has happened, too, but such deceit only props up the fallen, keeps the fallen from having to deal with the consequences of their fall, and kills all hope of the fallen ever recovering.

Still, it takes great courage for someone accustomed to this to come forward and tell the truth any point after the fact. For many victims who do come forward, it is often due to encountering the next victim(s.) The first victim starts to think the subsequent victim(s) abuse is the first victim’s fault. Since it could have prevented by speaking up. The victim comes forward when that guilt grows greater than the guilt of speaking out against “a good man/woman, really, s/he just has a little problem with . . . ”

Another way victims within the tribe find their courage is when they see the dysfunctional tribe leader in some way attempting to position themselves to hurt even more people. When that happens, real victims are vulnerable to exploitation by their tribe’s enemies. Especially when the tribe’s enemies are kind and loving to the tribe’s victims while the victims’ now ex-tribe defends their ex-tribe and props up the abusers at the victims’ expense.

A dysfunctional tribe is often blind to their own contribution to a victim’s “fall to the enemy.” The more valid of an enemy it is, the more serious the victim’s fall is, the blinder the tribe is to how the tribe has been a stumbling block to the victim.

Let’s be real now. Instead of objectively analyzing evidence offered against a trusted tribal authority, most of us are prone to dismiss it out of hand, sure it couldn’t be true. It is also too common for people to think their enemy tribe’s failings outweigh and somehow justify our tribe’s own. When a victim exposes one of our own, our eyes are prone to seek any reason the victim is the guilty one, and to question why they didn’t come forward sooner. The short “why” is because the abuser’s own tribe holds power in the victim’s life and will assume the victim is the one in the wrong without proof of that rather than give serious consideration to evidence of the abusers’ guilt that is coming in the form of eyewitness testimony.

Rather than dismiss eyewitness testimony out of hand, let’s at least seek actual proof the witness isn’t credible.

Now, it’s apparent many of us don’t know the difference between eyewitness testimony, other evidence, and accusations. To the best of my understanding, I’ll give some examples:

Accusation: “She/he is X negative identity.”

Eyewitness testimony: “This person did X wrong act to me or someone else in front of me. Here are the details to the best of my memory, given with the discretion called for by the nature of the act.”

Counter Accusation: “S/he is a liar!”

Counter Evidence: “Here are multiple separate cases where the same person has targeted multiple separate powerful men who fit a certain profile with asexual assault accusations. Here are recorded calls/emails/letters sent to all of the accused, demanding hush money or otherwise attempting to blackmail all of the accused.”

Counter Evidence: The same person has told the same story six different ways six different times and contradicts him/herself.

Counter Evidence: Four eye-witnesses to Christ’s execution and resurrection give the exact same account of the same event. This would have been evidence of liars colluding on a story. What we actually find in the Bible is four separate eye-witnesses giving testimony that contradicts each other on minor, insignificant details. Such is evidence the eye-witnesses are four ordinary humans telling the truth to the best of their own recollections.

In our modern tribal disputes, often, both sides of a dispute are contradicting each other and calling the other side a liar. We need to examine the credibility of both sides’ arguments objectively. That can be tricky, as it is human to be biased in the favor of our own tribe and the tribal authorities we love and respect. We could all stand to check our biases and more fairly evaluate the evidence and the objective credibility of eye-witness testimony. If, on careful examination, one side of a modern flap is giving detailed eyewitness testimony and the other side is mainly throwing out accusations and deflecting responsibility for their own behaviors, the latter side is at least acting guilty.

So, if you are innocent and someone is falsely accusing you, it’s best to resist letting yourself get caught up in defending yourself and lashing back at your enemy. Especially if you’re a Christian; that is not what our God calls us to do. Instead, pause. Reflect on how things looked from the other person’s viewpoint and ask “what could I have done to discourage incidents like this in the future?” Without taking the answer as justifying any wrongs done against you. It doesn’t. These steps are meant to help you calm down and to calm down the situation with a contrite, humble response.

Sociopaths, narcissists, and many other dysfunctional tribal leaders NEVER consider others viewpoints or admit to their own faults, and certainly not in public. In most situations, we’ll find we did contribute, though how we could’ve avoided the incident does not make it our fault. Unless the incident was ourselves lashing out, of course. Either way, owning your contribution, apologizing, and seeking to change can show either your innocence or genuine repentance and make peace. Victims are scared to try that, though, and our reasons can be valid with dysfunctional tribes and abusers. Pray hard before trying that tactic on an abuser or a dysfunctional tribe known to be apt to use your admitted flaws against you. Either way, take the brave road. Resist defending yourself. Resist lashing back. Instead seek to offer kindness, respect, love, a humble, soft response, knowing God is with you and will help you.