Let Freedom Ring

The Fourth of July is more than parties, parades and fireworks. Choosing to declare independence from Great Britain marked the birth of a great nation. Choosing personal freedom, on the other hand, won’t give rise to a new nation per se, but will most definitely be the first step towards a new cre-ation. This event may not call for a national holiday, but it’s a decision that will be life-changing and one that will allow you to embrace life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness the way God (and our forefathers) intended.


BFF, BTW, LOL, TTYLThis isn’t an eye exam but an example of the younger generation’s preferred method of communication – AKA textese. Years ago at the suggestion of a family therapist, I reluctantly embraced texting to improve my relationship with my kids. This simple piece of advice may have cost me $250, but it was money well spent. What I wasn’t prepared for was the occasional hilarious misunderstandings due to my lack of fluency with their lingo. 

Father Knows Best

by Joanie Butman

Learning to appreciate the blessing of pain is a lofty ambition, not easily achieved because our base instinct is to avoid it at all costs. However, the purpose of some pain is to alert us to danger and/or to avoid harm. It's the body's first line of defense, and ignoring it can prove costly. That’s how I ended up with a volleyball-sized tumor in my gut. I disregarded my body’s screams to seek medical attention until I found myself in a critical state.

My present example is inconsequential but a good illustration of my tendency to wait until the pain is such that it affects my ability to function – like breathing in the tumor incident. My latest injury was self-inflicted – a familiar scenario in my life physically and spiritually. As with many of my DIY projects, whatever I save monetarily by doing it myself gets spent on fixing my mistakes (mostly haircuts), or on doctors to heal something I injured in the process. This particular project’s victim was my thumb. It sounds silly, but you don’t realize how often you use your thumb until it’s incapacitated.

Spiritually, my do-it-yourself episodes have had far more serious consequences. In those instances, the ensuing pain was God's correction tool. As such, it was instrumental in drawing me closer to Him and teaching me (the hard way) that the Father DOES indeed know best. Any limitations He’s put on me are for my own protection and benefit.

The severity of my current situation reached a climax when I attempted to pull up my Spanx while dressing for a recent wedding. Getting into Spanx isn’t pretty under normal circumstances. Trying to do it one-handed resembles something Houdini might attempt. Up until that point I was perfectly content waiting for my thumb issue to resolve itself – as if that strategy has ever actually worked. I eventually managed to wrestle them on (and off) but knew the time had come to seek professional help. One painful shot of cortisone, and I was on the mend. So why did I wait so long? Good question. 

The diagnosis was trigger finger, “a painful condition that causes the fingers or thumb to catch or lock.” I hope I haven’t reached that age when people bore you with details of their various ailments. Nevertheless, I use this particular malady as an analogy for my more serious issue of being spiritually ‘stuck’ – an ailment probably more prevalent than trigger finger. It’s equally painful but with no quick fix. I wish the remedy was as easy as a cortisone shot directly into my soul to reduce the swelling of pride and selfishness. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Both conditions bring to mind the famous quote “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.” The original author is unknown, but his or her name isn’t nearly as important as the wisdom of this universal truth – physically, emotionally and spiritually. Therein lies the blessing of pain. It gets our attention and demands action. You can only ignore it so long, though some people have a higher threshold of pain than others. Perhaps they have a vested interest in choosing to wallow in their current condition or maybe they fear the diagnosis. It’s difficult to face the truth sometimes. Or perhaps the cost of change seems too high. We all have our own justifications for avoiding change.

Just like I finally chose to seek professional help for my thumb, spiritual healing and change requires a similar choice to seek help from the only One capable of getting anyone ‘unstuck.’ The healing balm of His love has the power to eliminate any inflammation or obstruction preventing us from fully functioning and living the abundant life He desires for everyone. The cure is not as simple or straightforward as an injection. It’s more of an exchange process where we surrender our pain, and God uses it to bless us in some way. Given the opportunity, He can pinpoint the deepest hurt with surgical precision and melt it with His grace.

I don’t think God was particularly concerned with my trigger finger or my inability to don my Spanx, but I know for certain He was waiting patiently for me to choose to seek Him out in regard to being spiritually ‘stuck.‘ I will leave you with some wise advice from Rick Warren:

We have to make intentional choices in order to grow. There is no growth without change, no change without loss, and no loss without pain. If you are going to grow, you will have to change, and change means letting go of some old things in order to grab hold of some new things. It’s like swinging on a trapeze. The trapeze artist swings out on one bar, and then has to reach out and grab the other one. At some point, he’s got to let go of one to grab the other or he’s not going to make it to the other side. If he thinks he can hold on to both, what happens? He gets stuck in the middle, and he’s going down. Some of you are stuck in the middle, and you’re going down because you haven’t let go of the old patterns, the old habits, and the old ways of thinking. The Bible says to throw them off and trust that God is working in you “to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

Do you have an area in your life in which you need to choose to get 'unstuck'? I recommend consulting with the Great Physician. He record speaks for itself.

"Golden Scars"

by Joanie Butman

Being part of a prayer chain brings all kinds of urgent requests to my attention, but you needn’t be on one to recognize that brokenness is innate to humanity. We are all a work in progress, constantly evolving. Who isn’t in recovery from something, being ‘repaired’ in some way, shape or form? A number of recent emails brought to mind something I learned at a retreat this winter.

Did you ever hear of Kintsukuroi? It’s a Japanese form of art that takes ordinary, broken pottery and fuses the cracks with gold resulting in a more valuable item than before it was broken. Once the item is refurbished, it takes on the identity of the restorer. It doesn’t matter where the bowl originated, where it had been or what it had been used for; it has now been transformed into a treasured Japanese work of art distinguished by the unique beauty of its flaws.

The analogy to Christianity is glaring because our God is in the business of restoration. It is only through our brokenness that we are made more beautiful and precious taking on His identity in our new, improved, repurposed condition. No longer do we hide our scars and shame but display them as a testimony to His loving hand, infusing love into our cracks making gold out of clay.

Photo compliments of Lakesidepottery.com

Photo compliments of Lakesidepottery.com

But the pot he was

shaping from the clay

was marred in his hands;

so the potter formed it

into another pot,

shaping it as seemed

best to him.  (Jer 18:4)

Christ himself has scars – not to remind Him of the pain but to remind us of His love. They remain a symbol of His sacrifice on our behalf – a permanent testimony of His undying love for us. In his book, Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr notes:

“As they were for Jesus, ‘our wounds become honors.’

The great and merciful surprise is that we come to God

not by doing it right but by doing it wrong!

Like so many others, my scars are simply a road map of my life, most of them indicating some mistake or lack of judgment. Others are simply the result of living in a broken world with other broken people where we are susceptible to all kinds of disease and heartache.

Some scars are noticeable, but the ones hidden beneath the surface are often the most damaging. Psychological and emotional scars, though not physically visible, are the ones that shape our thoughts and contribute most to the people we become. We may not always have control over the experiences that cause those scars, but we always have a choice regarding how we deal with them. We can embrace the healing process and move on, or we can resist it by picking at the scab and reopening the wound repeatedly, allowing it to fester by keeping it exposed too long. It then has the power to infect and damage everything in its path.

Therein lies the beauty of God’s grace, which allows those wounds to heal leaving a beautiful scar as a reminder, not of the wound, but of the wisdom we gained through its pain. Did you know that scar tissue is tougher and stronger than regular tissue? There is a certain power in that knowledge that goes well beyond the physical. Emotionally and spiritually, we grow and mature through our struggles but only if we choose to embrace them and learn from them.

I just finished a book called Brain on Fire, My Month of Madness, which documents a young woman’s battle and recovery from a rare disease called Autoimmune Encephalitis, commonly misdiagnosed as psychosis. It is a condition where a person’s antibodies attack their brain. In essence, her own body was killing itself. Aren’t we all our own worst enemy at times? She ends the book with a question often asked of survivors of any kind: “If you could take it all back, would you?” Her response echoes scores of others who have fought to get to the other side of their pain. “I wouldn’t take that terrible experience back for anything in the world. Too much light has come out of my darkness.”

She is a perfect illustration of a human form of Kintsukuroi – a living work of art who chooses to use her brokenness to offer hope and inspiration to others – definitely a wise choice by any standards.

The following video describes the purpose of struggles more eloquently than I ever could. It’s worth watching.

Chews Wisely

by Joanie Butman

You'd think all the shoveling this winter would have prevented the customary layer of winter weight to accrue. Sadly, it did not. So, in an effort to shed extra pounds gained over a long winter, I joined my girlfriend in Rick Warren’s Daniel Plan – 40 Days to a Healthier Life. I was hoping to get my body ‘beach ready,’ though I use the term loosely at my age. I thought several weeks of healthy eating would be enough to at least allow me to fit into last year’s bathing suits.

After her six-week weigh in, my partner called to let me know she lost four pounds. I responded that if she ever wanted them back, I found them on my butt and would gladly return them. Disappointingly, I weighed in at exactly the same tonnage, despite exercising daily and eliminating sugar and carbs from my diet. I was so disgusted I left the office and bought a hot pretzel and topped it off with dessert when I got home. This act of rebellion was definitely a self-defeating choice (certainly not my first), but I have to admit nothing tastes quite as good as forbidden fruit. I wonder if Eve thought the same as she bit into the apple.

My lackluster results got me thinking. Does anyone actually know what Daniel looked like? The Bible doesn’t include photos. Perhaps his diet adhered to kosher standards but was never meant as a weight-loss regimen. All I know is that I needed to reevaluate my strategy.

Nothing challenges me more than a limit – self-imposed or otherwise. It brings my rebellious nature front and center, which is why diets or rules of any kind rarely work for me. They force me to obsess about the very thing I want to forget. This tactic is one of Satan’s favorite and most successful strategies – tempting us with prohibited things and distracting us from the plethora of healthy alternatives – like fruit for dessert. Whoever heard of such a thing? Even a hefty dose of whipped cream fails to make that option remotely appealing, as opposed to cake, gelato in a waffle cone or a bag of peanut M&Ms. If I was Eve, Satan would have had to up the ante quite a bit.

This example brings up an interesting conundrum. Why is sin so much more alluring than its opposite? Even Paul, a spiritual giant, laments, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…Oh, wretched man that I am.” (Romans 7:15, 24) Maybe he too was on the Daniel plan. As a Jew, he probably did adhere to the same strict dietary restraints. Paul never mentions the nature of the thorn in his side. It could have been a penchant for bacon for all we know.

Regardless, the sad reality of aging is that the older one gets, the easier the weight goes on and the harder it is to take off. I would need to devote a large portion of my day to exercise just to keep my body close to my younger self. I’m not willing to do that, so I’ve surrendered to the fact that a woman’s body after a certain age isn’t meant to mirror an earlier version of herself physically, mentally or spiritually. I just wish I could embrace my physical girth the way I do my mental and spiritual expansion. As my daughter often comments, “If I was your age, I’d eat anything I want.” We’ll see. 

My diet strategy has switched to simply exercising daily and eating relatively healthily, leaving room for certain indulgences because miraculously they lose their enticing power once the restrictions are lifted. Aside from that, I’m letting the ‘chips’ fall where they may (which is usually my waistline). That was Daniel’s philosophy, and it worked for him. Against all odds, by choosing to maintain the lifestyle prescribed by his beliefs, he lived well into his 80s or 90s. My new goal is to exercise the same kind of discernment towards my body that I apply to my mind and my heart where the choice of what to ingest has more serious consequences than an increase in dress size.

The Daniel Plan may not have worked for me in regards to my figure, but his devotion and dedication to fellowship and observing a daily prayer routine inspires and motivates me to do the same. Despite living in a foreign country with myriad responsibilities as the king’s servant, and the pressure to conform to a pagan society, he remained loyal to his tradition of spending time with God three times a day.

Aren’t there days when you feel like you’re living in a foreign culture with distractions (not all of which are negative) and responsibilities pressing in on all sides? And who doesn’t feel pressured at times to conform to an ever-changing standard of acceptable behaviors. I do, but when I choose to follow Daniel’s type of prayer regimen, I feel more grounded and even lighter regardless of what the scale reads. I may look the same, but I’m enjoying a healthier spiritual life, rich in quantity, substance and flavor without the calories. 

What’s your approach to ‘chewsing’ wisely?