A Common Enemy

A few weeks ago, while attending a super amazing debrief and life coaching retreat with girlcatchfire, it was suggested I take a “saboteurs” analysis, based on research performed by Shirzad Chamine, to identify the ways I self-sabotage .  Chamine says, “These Saboteurs are your internal enemies.  They are a set of automatic and habitual mind patterns, each with its own voice, beliefs, and assumptions that work against your best interest.”

The idea is that the right side of our brain is constantly at work to “protect us” but unfortunately, it often gets so carried away it ends up doing more harm than good.  It assesses situations based on previous experience and fear and feeds into those emotions.

Personally, I saw this quiz as putting a face on the lies Satan tells me.  Right brain, left brain, who knows?  I do know that Satan is the father of lies and all these “voices” and “warnings” are lies he has disguised and embedded deep within my soul.  He knows what works on me and sticks with those same things to continually wear me down.

 

But first, let’s take a minute to talk about Satan.

(The following definitions are taken from the Lexical Aids to the Old and New Testament in the NASB Key Word Study Bible and the numbers are from the Stong’s Concordance)

Sâtan (7853) is actually a Hebrew verb meaning to attack, to accuse, to be an adversary.  The Greek noun is Satanas (4567) – an adversary; the one who casts either himself or something between two in order to separate them; the false accuser.  The other name given to Satan in Greek is Diabolos (1228) – devil, one who falsely accuses and divides people without any reason.  This is his name because he was cast out of heaven for falsely accusing and slandering God.  (These events are explained well in this article from Christianity Today).

Satan is a physical being.  He was once an angel.  He is the father of lies.  He is actively accusing and attacking the children of God.  He is putting himself in the middle of relationships to separate us from one another and from the truth and love found in God.

Know your enemy!!

 

Okay, now that we know who we are fighting against, let’s go back to his strategy.  Chamine proposes there are 10 saboteurs, and people commonly struggle with two or three of them.  Or from my perspective, there is a pool of ten lies that Satan picks from to really make me useless.

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According to Chamine, everybody suffers from, what a good friend calls, “Judge Judy” (love ya, PH).  His research has shown that we all have an internal judge inside that can manifest in different ways but whose voice is the ring leader of the other lies.  We judge our selves or others or circumstances, or a combination of all three.

For me, Satan (in the voice of Judge Judy) whispers things like “these people don’t really care, they are just being polite” and “you are annoying your friends by needing them” or more commonly, “nobody wants you around” and “you’re alone and always will be.”  The sad thing is, I usually believe it.  We all do.

However, there is comfort in knowing a) it is a lie but more importantly b) other people hear the same voice, saying the same things, feeding the same common lies.  In his book, Chamine says, “Many said they felt a huge weight off their shoulders because for the first time in their lives they had realized that their inner torment was commonly shared.”

Guess what, we’re all in this together, so now its confession time…

My other saboteurs, Judge Judy’s deputies, are hyper-vigilant, victim and avoider.  I don’t like seeing this.  I don’t like to admit to myself that I’m an avoider (I’d much rather ignore it) or that I’m always concerned about what’s going on around me (because I just care about you too much to let you do that really stupid thing that will probably kill us both) or worst of all I’m a victim (because I’m clearly not, people just never believe me or understand me).

Yeah, I guess I am all these things and I’m admitting it here because we all suffer from one saboteur or another so why not just own up to it, flush it out and fight back.

Yes, we all struggle but we don’t have to live with these lies any longer.  Yes, we can take comfort in their commonality, but Christ has defeated Satan and he no longer has power over us.  However, just because the victory is already won doesn’t mean the daily battles are over.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God…”

Ephesians 6:12-13a

 

We are called to put on the armor of God.  Armor!! As in knights on horses or GIs in bullet proof vests.

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Secondly, we are not in this fight alone.  We are to “encourage one another daily…so none of [us] may be hardened by sin’s [Satan’s] deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).  We are to spur one another on (Hebrews 10:24).

We need to say to one another “Rise up.  This matter is in your hands.  We support you, so take courage and do it.” (Ezra 10:4)

Yes!! This is community!!

Know the enemy.  Familiarize yourself with his attack.  Be prepared.  And never fight alone!

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Shirzad Chamine’s saboteurs assessment


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Loneliness

“To believe I walk alone, is a lie that I’ve been told.  So let your heart hold fast, for this soon shall pass, like the high tide takes the sand.”  Let Your Heart Hold Fast – Fort Atlantic


 

A few years ago I was told that loneliness is part of the human condition and somehow it brought comfort to know that we all feel alone together.  However, while the concept is probably true, I’m not sure how helpful it is.  Sure, there are periods of loneliness that we all go through but when I am living in loneliness and it is in my power to do something about it, shouldn’t I?  I have lived a good portion of my life in a continual state of loneliness but should I just accept that as part of life or should I try to change it?

It’s important to understand what loneliness is and where it comes from.  I think there are at least two kinds of loneliness:

  • Loneliness when you truly are alone
  • Loneliness when you have convinced yourself you are alone.

The first one is pretty self-explanatory – you are physically isolated from people or at least the important people, the ones who know you intimately; the people who you want to be around.  This can be due to a move or life event that physically changes the community around you but unless you are suddenly in Antarctica or a space station, with some effort, it should be temporary.  The world is full of people and who knows which one is going to be your next kindred spirit.

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The second is a little more complex and more individual, but I believe loneliness is often born from insecurity.  “To believe I walk alone is a lie that I’ve been told” – unfortunately, more often than not, I’m the one spreading these lies to myself.  I often find myself thinking that nobody wants to be around me.  I feel I’m too needy or too much of a burden.   I believe I’m too messed up to deserve to be in anybody else’s life.  These all lead me to a lack of initiative in seeking people out or trouble maintaining relationships I already have.

This kind of loneliness is the result of deep hurt, history and insecurity – too many outings I wasn’t invited on.  Too many birthdays nobody wanted me at because that’s obviously what it means when you aren’t invited, right?  Too many nights spent alone with no plans.  Clearly there is something wrong with me.

Deep down, I know this isn’t true.  I know it is a lie that I have chosen to believe.  I know it is from Satan.  In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Luna Lovegoodsays some truly insightful words to Harry: “If I were [the enemy], I’d want you to feel cut off from everyone else.  Because if it’s just you alone you’re not as much of a threat.”  So many of these things are born from little lies that Satan plants that my own insecurities and past hurt grow into an entire hedgerow.  But it works and I am rendered useless.

I desperately long for people to know me but fear being hurt.  Last week I wrote a whole blog about how I crave intimacy but lack trust.  I work against myself, shutting people out, never giving them the chance to know me then fear losing the ones that are on the inside and the result is usually the same – depression.

How closely are these two related – depression and loneliness? From what I can find they often go hand in hand but are two distinct conditions.  In my life, loneliness has led to depression.  Isolation both physically and mentally have led to sadness and worthlessness which in turn is a downward spiral of self-doubt and depression.

How do I get back out of it? What is the antidote?

This past Easter I was struck at how lonely Jesus must have felt on this earth.  Nobody understood him.  Nobody knew who he was.  Most people did not believe him.  In the end, in his deepest hour of need, he was deserted by the people who were supposed to be closest to him.  He was hours before death and completely alone in the garden.

However, in this moment, he did not falter in faith.  He did not waver in his identity.  He did not throw in the towel and crumple into a heap of self-doubt.  In this moment, he sought the Father’s love and clung to the promises he knew to be true.  He prayed.  (Read John 17, it is beautiful).  He held fast to the truth of who he is, and his purpose and the joy of restoring his family – us, me – to the Father.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.   –Hebrews 12:2

So what is the antidote?

It’s Jesus.  It’s my identity as a beloved daughter of my Heavenly Father.  It’s the body of Christ, community.

Jesus died to restore us so that we have freedom to fellowship with one another in the Spirit of Christ.  This is a community unlike anything in this world.  It is a community that is real.  A community that will look past the insecurities and feed truth to the lies.  However, it is up to me to find it and fight for it.  Yes, loneliness is part of the human condition but I’m starting to think that it is also a choice.  It is up to me to choose to believe truth, choose to believe who I am in Christ and choose to fellowship with those around me.

 

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who are you hiding from?

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Who are you hiding from?

Friends, family, yourself, God, nobody, everybody?  I have a tendency to hide from everything and everybody. It’s a natural instinct but an unhealthy one.

My problem: I crave intimacy and lack trust.

It is an interesting place to be but I have a feeling I’m not alone. Both of these things are pretty natural human emotions – one is from God; the other is from the enemy.

We are designed to be intimate with God. We are created in his image and his image is relational.  However, we are also created to be intimate with one another.  This is not just physical intimacy.  We are designed to know one another deep enough that we can share not only our strengths but also our struggles.  Even the most independent, single person has weaknesses. We are all created to function in community; to build one another up and to fill the gaps in the people around us.  Unfortunately, this is pretty hard to do if we are hiding from the people around us.

We are all sinful and damaged humans built upon broken relationships and hurt.

We come into this world having to rely fully on other people to take care of us and there isn’t a question in a newborn’s mind that this will happen. It is expected and it is self-preservation – I cry, you answer.  As we grow, we learn distrust through hurt and disappointment, some much sooner than others, and the concept of self-preservation that is within us begins to define who we are and who we let in.

 

The result – walls

 

Some people hide behind a façade only showing parts of who they really are.  Some people hide behind a callous exterior pushing away anybody who gets too close.  Some people hide behind denial, blocking out what emotions are rising up.  Whatever it may be, we all hide behind some wall or another.  These walls are designed to protect ourselves and like any wall, it fulfills two purposes – it keeps others out but it also keeps us in, separated from the intimate community that can be found in the body of Christ.

So what is the answer?

How do we build trust not barriers?  How do we conquer the enemy and prevent him from robbing us of the deep, intimate relationships we were created to function in while not setting ourselves up to be utterly wrecked by a sinful world?  How do we protect ourselves from the hurt of this world while letting others in?  How do we guard our hearts without building walls?

I’ve heard this “guard your heart” warning many times within Christian community, mostly in the context of girl-guy relationships, but does anybody know what the heck it actually means?  If anything, the concept always encouraged me to build walls.  Don’t let people get too close – guard your heart.  Don’t let people see the real you – guard your heart.  For the love of God, never, ever let a guy in to the deep parts of your life who isn’t your husband – guard your heart.

However, I’m starting to think the whole concept is BS, so here are my two cents (and a slight detour) on the phrase “guard your heart” and some uses of it in Scripture…

Proverbs 4:23-27

Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.  Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk from your lips.  Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.  Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.  Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.

I would like to argue that in this context, a believer is guarding his heart from Satan by not giving the enemy a foothold through sinful thoughts and actions.  We are to guard our hearts by protecting ourselves and abstaining from the things of this world.  Nowhere does this imply putting up walls to keep other people out or ourselves in.

Philippians 4:6-7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

While in Proverbs, Solomon instructs us to guard our own heart against things of this world in order to prevent sin and death, here, Paul teaches that in matters concerning the soul – the deep anxieties of life which trouble us and keep us up at night – in these times, we are to bring the concerns to God and let his peace guard our hearts.

I still struggle to find the balance between vulnerability and being shielded, intimacy and distrust, but I have realized that it isn’t necessarily my responsibility.  “The peace of God…will guard [my] heart…in Christ Jesus.”  When life is chaotic and people are getting to know me in ways that scare the bejeezus out of me, I am not responsible for guarding my heart.  Neither am I supposed to build walls and push people back out or run away screaming and hide behind the last fragments of a barricade that are still standing.  I am asked to give my heart to God and his peace will guard it.

 

The peace of God will guard your freaking heart.

Peace – this is the very opposite than hiding scared behind a wall.

 

I’m not saying I know how to do this or that it is easy.  Submitting my deepest fears and anxieties to God while letting other people into my life and trusting him to protect me is a lot easier said than done.

I like control.  I like to be the one who lets people in or forces them out but maybe surrendering my heart to God and allowing him to guard it will work better.  He designed us to function in intimate community, orchestrated and ordained by him (our heavenly Father) who will protect us in the midst of the hurt, discouragement and disappointment by giving us his peace.

By this truth, I think if relationships are built on honesty and trust, in Christ, and we take the anxieties that come with these relationships to him, he will guard our hearts with his peace.  This is not to say that there will no longer be hurt; we are, after all, still living in a broken world but these relationships, no matter how painful, are from God and he will use them to better us.

I have started to let more people in and sometimes I still get wrecked, but in the process I can claim the fact that these relationships are a gift from my Father and if my heart is truly in him, he will give me peace and protection through the discomfort.  I can live in the truth that these people who made it past the walls have helped me grow and have filled the gaps in my life.  I can live in the truth that this is a picture of the body of Christ and know that one day, we will function in intimate community without the hurt but until that day, there is peace in Christ.

 

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Systemic Sorrow

There is a sorrow welling up in this community that has placed us all on the edge of an emotional cliff and we might just be one goodbye away from becoming an inconsolable puddle of emotions.

In a community where every friendship has an expiration date and every home a lease agreement, we have managed to hold on to Madagascar longer than expected.  God’s provision led us to this country in October of 2014 after months of waiting and delays due to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.  His grace let us stay here an extra year.

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The result of this extra year means we are that much more invested into the lives of our patients, our day crew and Tamatave as our home. One can never get used to the aching that occurs when over and over pieces are torn away from the heart.

In the last few weeks we have said goodbye to patients and family members, some of whom spent a good portion of both field services on this ship.

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©2016 Mercy Ships Photo Credit Justine Forrest; Dyllan with Grandmother

We are saying goodbye to our local day crew who are some of the hardest workers I have ever seen and who have become cherished friends.  We are saying goodbye to crew members who are finished serving onboard the Africa Mercy after years of service.

We are saying goodbye to home – a place that has our favorite restaurants and hidden beaches to escape the stress of life. It’s a place that has memories both good and bad of two challenging yet rewarding years of life.  It’s a place full of exquisite beauty in nature

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and in people.  And it’s a place where God is working and moving even though our time here is done.

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©2016 Mercy Ships Photo Credit Justine Forrest; New OBF ladies waiting for surgery at the HOPE Center

Tonight we are also saying goodbye to three rock stars.  We are honoring and saying goodbye to our Mercy Ships Academy graduating Class of 2016. This is a class of three individuals who are going to take this life by storm.  It’s a class that has a vision and perspective of this world far beyond the eighteen years they’ve seen – a class of true world changers.

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Photo Credit: Walter Pretorius; Mercy Ships Academy Class of 2016

©2016 Mercy Ships Photo Credit Justine Forrest;

In a community where friends, families, coworkers and counties are constantly circulating around a revolving door I’m not sure I even know how to begin to convey the exhaustion that is brought on by not only an incredibly long and trying field service but also the emotional drain of so much sorrow. In the book “Call of the Wild,” Jack London writes

There was nothing the matter with them except that they were dead tired.  It was not the dead-tiredness that comes through brief and excessive effort, from which recovery is a matter of hours; but it was the dead-tiredness that comes through the slow and prolonged strength drainage of months of toil.  There was no power of recuperation left, no reserve strength to call upon.  It had been all used, the last least bit of it. Every muscle, every fiber, every cell, was tired, dead tired.  And there was reason for it.

“And there was reason for it.”

These words could not be more true. So I ask you to take a minute to pray for our crew that we will find rest and comfort in our Sovereign God who holds all things in his hands and in all things works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest – Matt 11:28

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Fear and Terror

Maybe I have no place entering the debate on matters I am hardly aware of as I sit on a ship in Madagascar completely separated from the world.  Maybe this is not what or why I blog and shouldn’t get into it.  Maybe the only thing I have to be afraid of here is that my purse is stolen out of my tuktuk.  Maybe at the end of the day what I have to say doesn’t reach anyone who will listen.  Maybe this is all true but maybe it isn’t.

I see fear every day.  Patients travel across their country to an idea that is completely foreign to them for a surgery that may or may not be possible.

Photo Credit Ruben Plomp, Screening day 1 Top 5

Patient screening. Photo Credit – Ruben Plomp

Earlier this field service a 26 year old patient ran away from our outpatient facility before surgery because he was completely frightened of the unknown.  After returning with his father and being comforted by our crew this patient received surgery, has recovered and been discharged with new life.  He was able to overcome his fears and his life will forever be changed as a result.

In the last few weeks and months I too have been terrified.  Not of terrorist attacks or potentially dangerous refugees.  Not of being in Madagascar working a job that I pay to do.  Not of sickness or danger or physical threats.  No, I have been terrified that the body of Christ has so turned against itself we are no longer a united front against the enemy and in this weakness we are letting the enemy win.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. – Ephesians 6:12

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Abraham Lincoln from Mark 3:25)

Yes, there are some very controversial issues – gay marriage, abortion, refugees – but when these issues start tearing at the fabric that is the body of Christ the enemy has taken hold of whatever power we have to fight and torn it to shreds. No, we don’t all have to agree but the more we fight with one another the less the enemy even has to work.

But even this does not deserve fear since I know that in the end the enemy is defeated and God does and will reign sovereign.

We live in a world of fear and terror.  Whether it’s a patient afraid of a big white ship or a kindergartener afraid of his first day of school, fear is one of the most natural reactions as human beings.  However, what in life do we really have to be afraid of?  There is a scene in Prisoner of Azkaban when Harry’s boggart turns into a dementor proving what Harry fears most is fear itself

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or perhaps the more famous Franklin D. Roosevelt quote

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

While this is obviously full of wisdom I think there is another answer.

First, what is fear?

Fear (according to Merriam-Webster): noun – an unpleasant emotion caused by being aware of danger; a feeling of being afraid; a feeling or respect and wonder for something very powerful

The scenarios mentioned above fall into the two first definitions.  Fear of danger or being afraid.  I however think we should focus on the last definition “a feeling of respect and wonder for something very powerful.”

What are we to fear?

The answer is given to us over and over again in Scripture.  We are to fear God.

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands. – Psalm 112:1

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom – Proverbs 9:10a

 

This is not a fear that makes us hide under the bed or build a bunker to survive a nuclear war.  This is reverence and respect knowing that God is the almighty creator of the universe and everything in it, and he has chosen to commune with us.  God chooses us.  This fear is to motivate our actions not out of terror but out of devotion.  We do not have to engage in the first two types of fear since we know that God triumphs in the end and if God is for us none can stand against (Rom 8:31).

We must then look at our actions and our fears and determine if we are running away or fighting one another when we should be united in a reverent fear of the Lord.

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  – Hebrews 10:25

 

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if it’s not one thing its a propeller

It was roughly a year ago that I arrived back on the Africa Mercy in Tenerife with the expectation of sailing to Benin in five days.  Well as you may remember or can read here not only did we not sail in five days we did not sail to Benin at all.  Roughly two months later we arrived in Madagascar to begin an incredible field service in which we saw the Lord move in amazing ways through incredible crew, day crew and patients.

Well as it is often said, the only thing that is constant in Mercy Ships is change.  Yes we are still sailing to Madagascar but seeing as we were scheduled to set sail on 3 August and are still in a dry dock berth with the propeller and shaft disconnected we are once more in a period of delay.

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Surrounded by frustrated nurses and other medical professionals who are again eagerly waiting to begin the work they are so passionate about we tend to wonder why.  Why are we once again stuck when all we want to do is serve the Lord who has called us here?

But where is here?

I was sitting in church on Sunday and the pastor was preaching from some of my favorite verses in Jeremiah 29.  A lot of people will know Jeremiah 29:11 by heart.  They have seen it on an inspirational greeting card or as part of a graduation message “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”  However, the verses that precede this have become some of my favorite in the Old Testament and are often overlooked when quoting verse eleven.

The Israelites have been uprooted from their home and exiled in Babylon for 70 years.  While the normal reaction would be to sit and pray to be returned home or to remain in a small community waiting, God commands them to invest in their new home.

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Jeremiah 29:4-7

While I am not saying we are in exile and we certainly will not be here for 70 years, at least I hope not, we are in an unexpected location apart from what we perceived our calling to be.  God knows what he is doing.  He knew that we would be in Durban for the next few weeks and I am sure he has a mission for us here just as much as we thought we had a mission in Madagascar.

Sometimes I have such a vision of what I think I am supposed to be doing that I miss what God is actually asking me to do.  I miss that he is saying just surrender to me here.  Be with me here.  Meet with me here.  Be a light to the people here.  Be a light to those around you whether they are crew members, DORMAC workers in a Durban shipyard, the people of Durban or the people of Madagascar.

Why am I limiting God’s call on my life to a specific job in a specific location?  No I don’t think I am supposed to build a house here in Durban but I am called to invest wherever I am for however long that season may last.  One of the most crucial lessons I have learned in recent years is to bloom where I am planted.  Right now I am planted in Durban.  Yes I’d rather be sailing on the ocean or securely tied to the dock in Toamasina, Madagascar but this is where I am and my attitude is the only thing I can change about the situation.  So for the next few weeks or until whenever we arrive in Madagascar I will chose to meet with God here and invest here in my current location.

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