Weakness Begone

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It was another great day at Kintsugi women’s self-defense class at Ka’en’s, learning how to wriggle out of a chokehold, hip-thrust to knock off the attacker’s center, grab the arm and toss them. Wooo. But when I rolled to the floor the pain of my bruised ribs screamed again and I had to sit and breathe for a while. I cried out in frustration — ugh, here I was rib-hurt again! and couldn’t do half of what I wanted to do in class.

Ka’en urged me to get some sort of mid-section support (yeah, I’d seen something like that down the knee-brace aisle at Walgreen’s). Then she got this spark in her eyes. She said, “I think we need to pray about this.”

She prayed for all my body systems to submit to Christ and function as they were designed. Then, as she placed her hand on my sore side, she prayed a different prayer. She told the spirit of weakness and fear to leave me, and immediately I saw it: bony hands, black curved claws sunk into my side, cloudy charcoal body clinging to me like some hideous parasite.

You see, ever since I entered the world at a mere 5 lbs. 8 oz., I’d been a tiny person. I was skinny, gangly, frizzy-haired and scared. The kids in gym class would “cover” for me, so I rarely got the ball in basketball or had to bump the white orb over the net in volleyball. Softball was terrifying — really, what sane person wants to whack a speeding hard ball (no ball is soft zooming at those speeds) — flying straight at them? Of course I never tried out for any school sport — an avowed anti-sport person embracing music and a happy “bando,” playing first trumpet all the way through to graduation. Secretly I wanted to try out for Track and Cross-country in high school but what if it was too hard? What if I wasn’t strong enough? So I self-protected, retreating to music’s happy bubble, only (barely) doing sports in gym class.

A late-bloomer, I cowered under the voluptuous girls’ taunts, even after my mom bought me bras and taught me how to stuff them. I was weak, small. Still skinny all the way till college when I finally fully blossomed. When I got married I was embarrassed by my frame till I saw my husband’s happy smile, convincing me that at least in his eyes I was enough.

As I began working out at the local Y, I grew muscles and confidence. But deep down I still considered myself to be the tiny victim of life’s cruel jokes, a skinny little woman, small and weak. A spontaneous lung collapse in my mid-30s revealed a possibly congenital lung condition that would likely spiral into a gasping grasping end of  life. Frail, weak.

flickering flame

But in June 2010 the Lord healed my lungs. They still presented as full of blebs or cysts, but I could kickbox and run and lift weights. Still, though, it took several years to not be terrified of another lung collapse every time I experienced the occasional shortness of breath or lung pain. Small, weak, frail.

Even now, as I’m typing this, I’m breathing through some lung pain, a sharp poke in the side, a cramping pain like a stitch in the side. But this time, I’m not afraid.

As Ka’en prayed that day, I saw the creature and I was angry. How DARE you cling to me? I am Leoa, Warrior Princess of the Most High God, and anything demonic has NO place in or on me. As she told it to go, I saw it shrink back, claws pulling out, Holy Spirit puff dissipating it in a terrified cloud.

 

And I felt strength surge into my frame, starting at my feet and burgeoning up through my legs, through my middle, through the top of my head — a blast of power straight from God Himself. I saw Leoa standing on a mountain ledge, head thrown back, roaring golden fiery blast into the sky! And I saw that I was finally free from the lies of:

Weak
Small
Ineffective
Victim
Fearful
Useless.

Instead, I saw with new clarity what had been true for many, many years — I am weak in myself, O yes, every human is. But in Christ I am a fireball of power, and the fear I once held in me is now afraid of me.

I went home and began to claim back territory the enemy had taken from me, from my children. My son hasn’t been able to sleep in his own room, as terrors in the form of sounds and poltergeist-like activity have kept him bound. I went into that room and roared and roared. I saw, in the Spirit, wispy forms blowing out through the walls at the blast.

 All this power held in human frame, this earthen vessel… Is it me? O please, I’m not that good, I’ve never been much in the natural. But as all of us Holy Spirit vessels come to realize (more and more as we are taught and grow in and by Him), a being filled to the full is a mighty force to contend with, and Satan doesn’t mess with us long. Not to say he doesn’t try and I’m no fool to think he won’t try again. But the battle is always as good as won when I stand on what is true.

I am:

Mighty
Strong
Powerful
Fierce
Meek (gentle in harnessed power)
A Warrior.

screaming woman warrior

An awful lot like my Big Brother, Jesus Christ — the God of Angel Armies, my Commander, Lord, Best Friend, Comrade-in-Arms!

And as I assemble my army around me, I see flaming torch eyes in my sisters and brothers. We are mighty in Holy Ghost power, wind like a hurricane blast in the face of all the evil hell itself can throw against us. This is the true Church, my friends.

And as I breathe through the pain of my healing ribs, I no longer see a weakling. I see a Warrior with some battle wounds to show she’s not afraid of a fight. And, through Christ, I can do all things. All things my Commander and Lord calls me to, for I already have all I need. Fear is no longer my enemy. It is my vanquished foe. It is now afraid of me.

“God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
~ Paul in 2 Timothy 1:7

We are called to be more than what we were, what we learned so early on we accepted it as truth. We call lies truth because we see the so-called evidence and human logic says what sure seems to be true. But God’s great Truths always outshine the lies, the “facts” life has taught us. We are not who we think we are. Through Christ we are so, so much more than meets the eye.

What are you afraid of, my friends? What are some of the lies you need to unseat? It’s okay to not know what they are yet. But I dare you to pray the brave prayer:

Father, show me who I really am. Show me what You see when You look at me. And teach me to grow into the image You dreamed for me as You formed me with Your hands.

It’s time to unglue the skins that don’t fit. It’s time to grow into your true image. It’s time to become like Jesus.

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Drop Everything, Dear One

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While I’m tempted to do a bit about Christmas (i.e. the deeper meaning, the Christ child, the relative insignificance of gifts…) — I feel the Lord stirring my heart in a different direction. The direction I’ve never really been comfortable with. The direction of contemplation.

 “As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of             Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. ‘Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.’

 The Master said, ‘Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.'”(from Luke 10)

Now those of you who know the story of Mary and Martha and Jesus’ visit may see a hint of where I’m going. Poor Martha left to do all the work, Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, oblivious to all around her… and, indeed, that’s part of where I’m going. But really, we’ve been so hard on poor Martha. Some may even see this as an account of Jesus essentially throwing poor Martha under the proverbial bus for just trying to have dinner on the table on time.

But what was Jesus really saying (with incredible love and nary a smidge of condemnation)? Essentially: Martha, what you’re doing is important and I’m so grateful you want to give me a delicious dinner. I also understand you want it on the table in a timely manner so YOU can have a seat at my feet. But, dear one, sometimes the most important thing is to simply drop everything for me. And for your own heart’s sake.

Confession time: I’m NOT by nature a good at-Jesus-feet-sitter. I’m NOT good at dropping everything. I get an almost drug-like high from GETTING THINGS DONE. Ah, the glee of crossing off the checklist, occasionally writing additional things down for the pleasure of crossing them off! Ah, the delight of that tired feeling at the end of the day, looking back on a pile of things DONE and falling asleep exhausted! Ah, the coffee-fueled buzz of whizzing about the house with a clean path emerging behind me!

But what of my heart?

Ah, that. Well, who has time for that? Really, my heart is FINE, just keep moving forward, clicking off the To-Do list! If I have time at the beginning of the day (before the coffee spurs me on), I’ll check in with God. And at the end of the day I’ll pull away from my phone to heft my Amplified Bible. Let it fall open to — wherever — and start reading before my mood-stabilizer meds kick in and I fall asleep (usually a good 10 minutes). Isn’t that enough?

No. How I wish it was at times! I could get a lot more DONE if Holy Spirit didn’t keep nagging me about sitting down and just being with my Lord for a while.  Honestly, especially when the caffeine has me humming, the LAST thing I want to do is sit down. And when I do sit down, all I can think of is, When can I get up again and DO something else?

Now hold on a minute. I’m not talking about a religious I HAVE to do this An Hour a Day Keeps the Devil Away scripted Quiet Time. I’m talking about daily connection, taking time to be inwardly still, at least, before my God, loving Him. I’m talking about walking in the Spirit, as He leads, into daily delight. I’m talking about taking His hand and letting Him lead. About, as 12 year-old Jesus said so succinctly “being about my Father’s business.” This, for me, starts with stopping.

Deep down, way down deep where my heart is crying out I hear the call: Be still and know that I am God. He is calling me to connect. And that’s ultimately all my very being wants, to connect with my sweet Daddy and receive all the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control — He pours lavishly into me. Ingesting into my very being sweet Spirit fruit. But I rarely get this when I don’t stop. Acknowledge Him. Gaze into His sweet face and thank Him. I rarely get the gift of fullness in Him when I’m so busy on my own agenda I forget who — and Whose — I am.

My inner and outer whirlwind hears the Master’s voice:  Peace, be still. And Martha drops her dishrag on the counter, smooths her hands on her apron and simply stops. She gazes into those eyes and can’t resist the pull to sink at His feet, startled when He lifts her up, gives her a hug… and we sit together.

Soon we’re laughing and I find my mind awakening to deeper understanding. My soul is cleansed from the inside-out as fresh perspective washes away futility. My heart warms and I snuggle into His embrace. And I’m startled to discover, laughing at the improbability of this miracle in me! — I really don’t care anymore about what gets done today.

Because the most important thing has already been done.

Now, dear friends, can you relate? What strategies have you found helpful in connecting with the Lord? Let’s help each other by weighing in in the comments, below. Love you all!

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Suffering: Next-Level Training?

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Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. ~ Romans 8:17

I hesitate to even broach the subject. It’s not exactly party fodder, or even the usual banter of close friends.

“Hey, what’s up? How’re you doing?  Yeah, I’ve been suffering quite a bit lately, and… Wait, where are you going?”

This being a blog post, and my not being a Theologian (or an -ogian of any sort whatsoever), I am not planning to go too long or deep into this. At least not yet. But a quick plunge, given recent events, is in order.

So here goes.

Ka’en and I were finally out on Saturday, celebrating our near-twinness. We were both born in August, but my birth came two years and 13 days before hers. The last couple of years we’ve tried to have a birthday celebration close to our birthdays, at least in August. But this August was insane, September was even crazier, and finally we settled on October 27 as our Daylong Birthday Bash. She planned the first part of the day (a secret to me), I planned the second part of the day (a secret to her), and in the middle we’d have lunch at a local Indian restaurant.

So after Ladies’ Self-Defense class, off we went for Part 1, which I discovered was a mani-pedi (my first ever). It was lovely. Then off to the Indian restaurant for the best curry I’d had in forever. Throughout the meal, Ka’en was grimacing, clutching her right side, and breathing heavily. Hmmm… after watching this for a bit I began to make alternate plans. We finished lunch, paid, and I began striding out to the truck. Glancing behind me I saw Ka’en, barely able to walk, which clinched it. Into the truck and off to Plan B:  Christiana Hospital.

Into the E.R., much heavy breathing and side-clutching, brief stint in the waiting room, pulled out for vitals check (elevated blood pressure, temp and oxygen normal), placed in a side room, the usual waiting, etc., Percocet and a stint in the hallway, off to another room, waiting for doctors. Meanwhile the pain was getting worse, steadily, a clenching agonizing squeezing. Hours passed. Ka’en furrowing her brow, heavy breathing, more side clutching. Various tests:  EKG, imaging… and I’m carrying her stuff and mine from place to place, while medical personnel try to figure what’s up with all this pain.

And I’m listening to Father God, aka Dad. How should I pray? Mostly my prayers were inarticulate: heartache for my friend, sad thoughts, feeling at a loss. How can I help? I asked for a pillow, let the nurse know even the morphine wasn’t helping, tried to get Ka’en to smile but not laugh.

Then the weirdest thought entered my mind. Maybe this suffering was part of her training. Ummmm…what?? I knew it wasn’t from me. I was mama bear/ fiercely protective best friend; I wanted to make the pain yelp away, its tail between its legs. But the thought persisted, and I remembered the show I once saw about the Army’s version of Navy SEALS, guys who were already in Special Forces, who wanted to go to the next level and become Combat Divers. Preparing for that level required a lot of suffering, hard training for their bodies but especially their minds. Many dropped out along the way. But the ones who endured to the end achieved what few in the world could.

I’ve heard it said, “God doesn’t want people to suffer. What kind of parent would do that to their kids?” I have prayed for healing, remembering Isaiah’s “the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Verses abound in all four Gospels about Jesus curing everyone who came to Him for healing. And I believe in healing. My own progressive lung condition –which presented as emphysema — was healed in 2010. But what about suffering?  Does suffering (mental, physical, emotional) serve a purpose in maturing believers? I believe it does.

Didn’t Jesus’ followers suffer? Don’t His people suffer in various parts of the world today? Why? Oh, this topic has filled hundreds of books, each hundreds of pages long. How can a blog hope to even touch on this?

So I will offer a tiny taste of what I’ve learned:

Suffering produces perseverance and grit. Seeing Ka’en set her jaw and breathe through the pain without losing it, seeing her for the first time ever not experience a panic attack in excruciating pain — the worst she had ever experienced — was incredible. She simply asked for help and looked to Jesus for strength. Sure the medical community helped but they never diagnosed her problem. After several hours the pain ebbed and they sent her home.

Suffering narrows our focus to the only One who, ultimately, can do anything to help. Two years ago I experienced the worst pain of my life. Ever-increasing sciatica, till my body was in white-hot pain. Waiting for my mom to come back from taking the kids to school I was finally able to scream it all out, knowing I wouldn’t freak the kids out, and do you know what I said? JESUS CHRIST IS LORD OF MY LIFE, HE IS LORD OF MY DEATH! HE IS LORD OF THIS RIGHT HERE, JESUS I PRAISE YOU! The words just wailed out of me. Then the most amazing thing happened.

I suddenly saw Jesus beside me, bloody on the cross, barely able to breathe. I was hanging next to Him, on my own cross. He smiled understanding through His tears and the blood and I saw in His wide-open white-hot pain-filled eyes: compassion, a deep knowing. And in that moment I shared in His suffering. I felt love surge through me as never before, His love pouring into me as a gift. A gift I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It was an honor to be there, to be in this pain with Him.

My mom returned and I couldn’t walk without a crutch. Every step shot screaming through my whole body. The whole ER visit was a kind of blur till the concentrated Motrin injection started to kick in. I asked Jesus How did you do it? How did you transcend the pain on the cross and actually pray for your accusers, your enemies, the horde that put you there? And He didn’t tell me — He gave me the answer. I suddenly had a love that shut out the pain. Yes the pain was still there, but suddenly all I cared about were the other people in that place, the others scared in the ER, not knowing what would happen next. All I cared about was praying for them. And I shared in the love, through my pain — transcending my pain — with the Jesus who suffered more than any of us.

Holding Ka’en’s hand in the ER on Saturday as she hurt beyond my ability to help,  I was once again in a place of immense, intense honor.

I stroked her head, roaring into the dark. I beheld the glory of our God, blazing through her eyes. And the Lion of Judah roared above us both, His purpose in this beyond us. I suspect someday it will be revealed. For He never allows His children to suffer without reason. And this training, while excruciating, will produce whatever He had in mind as we submit to it — and to Him.

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Why I Walk Into the Dojo

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Every Saturday morning I do what I never saw myself doing. I walk into a dojo.

I pull off my sneakers and walk onto the mats for a martial arts-style ladies’ self-defense class. During a pretty intense hour we punch, fall, roll, run, learn various ways to use everyday objects as weapons… I never know quite what to expect, but it’s always good. The class before last, we learned how to use two sizes of umbrellas to nail any attacker, causing enough pain to distract him. We learned how to double him over with groin pain, gag with a jab to the throat, legs collapsing from a blow to the back of the knees – apersonal favorite — or a good whack on a floating rib or two. Great fun to try them out on the instructor, who happens to be my bestie, Ka’en. And we train our minds into new and exciting paths: the way of a woman warrior.

The fact that I even darkened the dojo door in the first place, much less return on a weekly basis, is a bit of a mystery to me. As a kid I was a skinny, fluffy-haired outsider when it came to sports, staring at the ground when kids were picked for gym class games knowing I’d be one of the last three chosen. Chronically afraid of the ball and having a tendency to daydream seldom serves the team in the thick of a game. Joining a sports team? Unthinkable.

I was the kid literally out in left field (by choice) during gym class softball games in middle school, feeling the sun on my face, seeking out four-leaf clovers while the infield game hummed yards away. Once a ball rolled near my feet and some guy way back in the diamond hollered for me to Throw It! To whom??? So I threw it at the kid yelling, and got back to my clover quest. I was the kid staring into the gym rafters (is that a basketball up there?) when the volleyball shot my way and I caught it, stunned. I was the girl who got the basketball for our team and dribbled it with no one grabbing at it, my gym class teammates shouting what I thought was encouragement – and made a basket for the opposing team. I’d had my fill of humiliating stuff like this by the time I was in college. Fitness? I’ll work out by myself, thanks.

So why would I willingly join a group of ladies to literally throw myself on the floor, putting myself in compromising positions, sometimes with a man doing the compromising? What would make me choose to be put into choke holds, pinned to walls, or lay on the floor with some lady or guy on top of me so I could learn how to throw them off and run?

Honestly, I’m not sure. But I keep on coming back. This is what I do know:

  • I am worth protecting. This is a new concept for me. I’m a mother of four; the mama bear instinct is strong in me to protect them. And if you say something against my man or my friends, look out. But me? My go-to? Avoid conflict (run away – run away! Insert Monty Python guards here). It’s slowly seeping into my heart: God made me, so I’m valuable. I am worthy of protecting. So, by the way, are you.
  • I need tools and techniques so if I’m in danger I can use my training to overcome. I refuse to be a victim – but if I just blindly flail in the conflict, attackers will most likely have their way with me.
  • I need to do hard things to train my body and mind regularly so I’m ready for whatever comes. Going to the dojo every Saturday is often inconvenient, but it’s worth it. Heck, it’s becoming almost a compulsion, as I leave exhilarated. Every time.

When Ka’en, who’s been studying Ninpo for a couple of years now, first brandished bruises on her arms and legs I thought she was a little loopy, calling them her “training trophies.” So I smiled and nodded, indulging her — but really, that’s a little nuts, don’t you think?  And then a couple weeks ago I got a skinned elbow from throwing her off when she pinned me to a cement block wall. I found myself delighted – even proud – of my one-inch wound. I guess it’s a warrior thing, because now I love to feel the muscle pain the day after a workout, and scanning my limbs post-class for my own trophies. Another bruise? Yes!

So this scared little girl is finding her grit. In class, when we yell “Get OFF me!” and “No!” — our self-defense kiais — I feel the power surge. You will not violate me. I am worth protecting, and I need to keep disciplining myself to keep doing what seems counter-intuitive. Do the hard things in class behind closed doors, prepare for the unexpected. And keep practicing outside the dojo. Because there’s an enemy out there, and he doesn’t play fair. And I will defeat him if I stay focused and disciplined.

I still take time for daydreaming and chasing butterflies, wandering in fields of peace and joy. Because I carry the Spirit of God in me, I carry a deep well of joy under all the chaos that comes. And each day I prep for unknown, inevitable battles. This messed-up Earth’s a war zone, so it just makes sense.

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Every morning Leoa faces Heavenly Dad, clad in spirit armor. Bowing, I lay my sword at His feet, acknowledging His Lordship, awaiting orders. Often, He draws me in for a hug and some words of encouragement. He urges me to study His word to sharpen the sword I carry with His deep truths. I bask in His smile and hide His words in my heart. Then I lift the sword, sheath it, stride out of the throne room, carrying the King Himself in my soul.

And I face what comes knowing greater is He living in me than anything this world throws at me.

Together, we train.
Together, we fight.
Lion of Judah roars through Leoa’s kiais  —
And the god of this world shakes in his boots.

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I Signed Up For This

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I once again entered that place that can, when managed correctly, serve as a torture chamber: the local Y. And, once again (will I never learn?), took up weights to begin yet another grueling training session with Ka’en. It has become our routine to be there every Wednesday without fail (save for contracting a communicable disease), so mechanically I arrived, ready for whatever my bestie had in mind.

At some point this summer I had willingly entrusted most of my exercise routine to my comrade-in-arms, as left to my own devices I’m a bit of a workout weenie. I was despairingly stuck at the same weight and fitness level and needed another voice telling me to Push Harder! So began partner training some two or three months ago (long enough to ingrain the habit whether I wanted it or not). And there I was again today, allowing her to lead me to a tall, partially-enclosed box hung with all sorts of metal objects waiting to be clamped on and maneuvered. We began our partner workout: I do 10-20 reps on one exercise, she does 10-20 reps on another then we switch. Then go on to the next set of two, and so on till we are quivering blobs of post-workout mess. A good 5 or six standing chest presses in with a seemingly innocuous bar and I’m thinking, This is hard!!! What was I thinking? Did I sign up for this?!

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Immediately a huge, scrolling parchment springs into my mind. Minute handwritten paragraphs fill it; at the bottom stretches a signature line. And I’m standing, quill in hand, scribing my autograph and looking back at me sheepishly.

What is this? What does it mean? Because, often, these quick visions of sorts contain layers of meaning. And I realize the document I’m putting my name to was crafted by none other than my Heavenly Dad, who offered me life for my downward death spiral.

Looking closer I see the paragraphs represent my life’s timeline.  Ah, there’s the first signature line near the top, following a tiny paragraph. I am 4 and my crayon scribble and dancing eyes show I’ve asked Jesus into my heart. The second paragraph is longer and my printed name at 16 shows I rededicated my life to Him after sliding away for a while. The bold grown-up signature at age 19 proves I gave up my long-loved dream of getting married and having a family, a house, a nice yard… and was willing to go anywhere and do anything for Him.

The one that really catches my eye is the one written in painful strokes, the one carved into the page as I sat on my metal bed at Chester County Prison, grasping for hope, realizing if I was going to survive this – or even if I wasn’t – I would grab onto His garment hem and never let go.

As I scan to the end I look at the signature at the bottom again, the one I caught myself writing while pushing out that bar at the Y. And there is me, but wait – it is spirit me, preborn yet fully formed, having risen from the deep talk with Dad where I agreed to all of it without yet seeing any of it. I had looked up at His face and nodded when He asked, “Will you enter the timeline and be born? Will you go wherever I say, do whatever I ask of you? Will you trust me?” I had written my name tall with sweeping, joyful strokes.

I did sign up for this. I signed up to become God’s warrior here on earth. At key points in my life I agreed to trust Him, sight unseen. Pure, blind faith but with eyes that see more and more as my Creator Dad opens my eyes. And, as the inner is often represented by the outward, I give myself to training to my friend who has herself done deep, hard training.

I take a shaking breath, exhale “In Christ.” And Leoa the Lioness pushes through one more rep.