Nine Months, One Lifetime, Part 6

The Holy Bible

I was unaware that there are rules of engagement, ethics, and professional boundaries that therapists are supposed to practice. Being oblivious to these rules, ethics, and boundaries, I could have never distinguished that a therapist can violate these guidelines.  When she said we were going to be best friends, I was flattered, curious, and taken to a different level in the relationship. Given my history and personality type, I treasure real friendships and place great value on them. I am a very kind, deeply loyal soul, and easily taken advantage of, particularly in this therapeutic relationship. I marched to the beat of her drum; I owned her imagined feelings that truly never existed; and I dismissed my inner voice. I was ripe for the picking and she knew it!

Now keep in mind I was persuaded to abandon my family. Over the next month, we began to talk about church. My husband and I belonged to a small IFCA (Independent Fundamental Churches of America) church of approximately 100 people on a good day. The college we attended was IFCA. We segwayed right in step with beliefs and practices into this church. We loved this church and became an integral part. We had developed a very close relationship with the pastor, his wife, and children, having dinner together no less than once a week. We were in attendance Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. I was the church pianist, my husband did dramatic readings, we taught Children’s Church for a number of months, we taught the Junior High Sunday School class for a short season, and we did janitorial rotations. For some unknown reason, I began feeling disillusioned; I felt like the church was consuming my very life, as if a small piece of sand was irritating my oyster flesh. I would spend countless hours prepping preludes, congregational hymns, offertories, postludes, and at times special music throughout the week. We prepared Sunday school and Children’s Church lessons. Saturday evenings began feeling like torture as my perfectionist anxieties escalated in anticipation of Sunday’s demands. At one point, my Sunday morning looked like this:

Get to church at 9:15 am to prepare the classroom for teaching the Junior High Sunday School class; teach from 9:30 am to 10:15 am making sure we were always done right on time so that I could race upstairs to play the prelude while people filtered in and took their seats; play two or three congregational hymns; play the offertory; play one more congregational hymn; children were then dismissed for children’s church and we would head back downstairs to teach Children’s Church making sure we concluded at 11:45 am sharp so that I could rush back upstairs to play the closing congregational hymn and postlude.  

At the point I began seeing the therapist, this was my weekly prep and Sunday morning routine, and I was burning out, which trickled into displaced feelings and irritations with people in the church that typically I could ignore or tolerate. Particularly, there were two curmudgeonly older women who together reigned with a cruel iron scepter making sure there would be no changes or altering of traditions. One month, my husband and I were asked to fill in for the woman who normally arranged the flowers and such at the front of the church. When not in use, a large Bible was displayed on the communion table. One Saturday when we were filling in, we decided to move the Bible to the ledge of the baptismal, place an arrangement of wheat in a vase along with a matching plate and chalice on the communion table. When we arrived Sunday morning, one of the women marched herself up to the baptismal, took the Bible and placed it back on the center of the communion table. They were bullies; I had experienced that enough in my life; and I refused to let it go without approaching the woman. I asked her why she thought it necessary to move the Bible back to the communion table. I will never forget her smirk and smug attitude, stating, “Because that is where it belongs!” I walked away and let it be as not to create a scene or conflict, which I could not manage. That morning for offertory, I played an arrangement of “Blessed Assurance” which crescendoed at various parts. Afterwards, this same woman accused me of playing the offertory in anger. I looked at her and had to walk away. This type of nonsense wreaks destruction in a church and strips away unity. Throughout the next few sessions, I shared these and other frustrations I was encountering at church with the therapist, not understanding that I was overwhelmed and fatigued.

Now I chose this particular mental health institution because “Christian” was in the facility name. I assumed all employees were Christians. Never make that assumption, ever! As I shared my experiences with the therapist, I encountered opposition to church in general. She began exploiting her feelings about church. People in the church are judgmental, critical, and she said a number of times some stupid quote about you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian, just like a car does not have to be parked in a garage to be called a car. She skillfully began discouraging me from church attendance. At that time, she certainly did not disclose that she herself was not a Christian, so I believed she was a Christian. She began encouraging me to distance myself from the friendship with the pastor and his family, telling me it was not a healthy relationship. She began telling me that there are no absolutes in life, everything is relative, and there are no truths or moral absolutes about going to church or not going to church. She persuaded me into believing these people were just hypocrites. I needed to give myself permission to walk away. In hindsight, she added fuel to the fire and made the situation seem worse. She used words like, “to tell you the truth,” “to be honest,” and “believe me.” I was in the center of her fumes! I did not dare risk disagreeing with her.  

And, slowly I began pulling away from church. At first, I stopped attending Wednesday evenings. Gradually, it spilled over onto Sunday evenings. Slowly, I missed a Sunday morning here and there until I was not attending at all. As I allowed church to dissipate, I was being drawn in closer to the therapist. She continued to tell me that we were going to be best friends; she told me we were going to be sisters we never had; she told me we were going to grow old in a nursing home together. She was paying special attention to me and my little ones inside grew increasingly connected and groomed.

The one thing that I have held dear since childhood is daily reading my Bible. I love scripture! I love how it is planted in the very essence of my being and surfaces randomly in my mind. Whether I have read it in secret as a child, daily in high school during lunch quietly escaping into the library, at every job during morning break, over and over, my Bible is precious to me and is my truth. I did not allow the therapist to take that from me because I never told her of my daily scripture reading, but I did quench the still small voice within and began listening to her.

Satan masquerades as an angel of light! Satan is cunning! Satan leads astray! Satan is crafty! Satan deceives and lies!  Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy! Satan is a stumbling block! Satan does not have in mind the concerns of God! Satan accuses! Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour! Satan roams back and forth throughout the earth! Satan outwits and we are not aware of his schemes! Satan torments! Satan tempts! Satan is lawless and has no absolutes!! Satan will fool you!

To be continued…

Love you, mean it!

Maybe Life is a Little Bit More

For some reason, I have lost my blogging mojo! I have not lost my enthusiasm about the blog; I love writing and I love my blog. It is as if I have lost my energy and concentration. It is at these junctures, I need to push myself into deeper water. In deeper water, I can either give up and drown or dig into that well of reserves and swim with more determination.  So, here I am swimming with determination, but in what direction? I am floundering with what to whittle out, though in reality the pickings are truly abundant. Hey, there’s a word — “abundant.” Seems like a great word for the Christmas season. Now, I am not talking about prosperity, I am talking about abundance. Prosperity, on the other hand, has more to do with material possessions and affluence. Scratch prosperity, that is not what I want to talk about, though I think the two get mingled together into one ideology never considering the distinctions.  

Prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as the Prosperity Gospel or New Thought) peddles a controversial religious thinking filled with accusations of hypocrisy. This notion promotes the will of God as always being financial blessings and the alleviation of sickness and poverty. Faith, prayer, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. If humans have faith in God, He will deliver security and prosperity; after all, it is God’s will for His people to be blessed. One prominent proponent of these teachings is Joel Osteen. Osteen owns a $10.5 million, 17,000 square foot mansion with 6 bedrooms and bathrooms, 5 open wood fire places, 3 elevators, a guest house, an outdoor pool, and pool house in River Oaks, Texas (a ‘burb’ of Houston, Texas, paying over $260,000 in property taxes yearly.) *Picture below

Joel Osteen’s Mansion

His lifestyle includes fancy cars (for sure a Ferrari), private jets, yachts, tailored suits, a wife refined by lavish jewels, attired in top quality garments, etc. His estimated net worth is $50-60 million. A satirical joke by the Babylon Bee circulated during Hurricane Harvey saying, “Joel Osteen Sails Luxury Yacht Through Flooded Houston To Pass Out Copies Of ‘Your Best Life Now.’ ” (it is worth a little chuckle!) Now, I am going to just leave this right here because I am not a proponent of this doctrine. However, I will toss out a couple questions to ponder:

  1. Who is the primary beneficiary of the prosperity gospel? The leader?
  2. Wouldn’t Jesus have been the wealthiest man on earth?
  3. How do you explain the persistence of suffering, sickness, and disaster among Christians?
  4. Where are treasures laid up under this religiosity? – “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…”

I really want to try to keep this simple. Abundant living is not material blessings as I interpret scripture. I believe abundant living is quite the opposite. Abundant living is:

  • Faith and hope in Jesus; eternal life –
  • A true personal relationship with Jesus – “…the LORD your God is God; He is the faithful God…”
  • Pray, Pray, Pray about everything – “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”
  • Reading the Bible – learning and maturing in wisdom and knowledge of truth – ““Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!”
  • Trusting in God’s power and presence in your life – “”I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?”
  • Trusting that God is all knowing – ““I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning…”
  • Desiring God more than what the world offers like material possessions, status, achievement, recognition, popularity, approval, acceptance, attention, idolatry, fulfillment of the flesh
  • Practicing the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control
  • Confessing our sins regularly; asking forgiveness from God and others; apologizing; swallowing pride and humbling oneself to specifically say “I’m sorry for…”  – “The LORD is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in loving kindness.” The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth…”
  • Asking God for help and helping others – “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
  • Choosing gratitude, being thankful for EVERYTHING – “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in ALL circumstances” (not some), “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you…”
  • Contentment in ALL circumstances – “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” “O, taste and see that the Lord is good…”
  • Choosing joy and peace amidst grief, difficult circumstances, and painful struggles (the list is not comprehensive, but here are many to contemplate choosing joy and peace amidst the pain) –

Death of a spouse
Divorce or Marital separation
Imprisonment
Death of a close family member
Personal injury or illness, major surgeries
Mental Illness
Abuse
Job termination or resignation
Retirement
Change in health of family member
Loss of Pregnancy or child
Sexual difficulties
Change in financial state
Death of a close friend
Change to different line of work
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan
Bankruptcy
Disability
Change in responsibilities at work
Child leaving home
Trouble with in-laws or family members
Spouse starts or stops employment
Change in living conditions
Revision of personal habits
Change in residence, moving
Change in church
Change in sleeping habits
Change in eating habits
Christmas & Holidays & Anniversaries
Home invasion, theft of property or threat of
Loss of Trust, Betrayal, Loss of Approval, Loss of Safety  

  • Deep, abiding peace that passes all understanding that does not come from deep breathing and counting to ten
  • Choosing to live a changed new life as a new creation through the power of Christ
  • Surrendering our will and desires over to God – one example is addictions, which includes failing, recovering, adjusting, enduring, overcoming, over and over until we have victory
  • Resting in God’s sovereignty and timing – “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” “I the Lord do not change.”
  • Loving and giving to others – “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  “…give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

You see, the abundant life is NOT an abundance of tangible “stuff” purchased at stores or online amassed in our homes or owning finer things keeping up appearances or keeping up with the Joneses, accumulating treasures here on earth. The abundant life is about the abundance of Jesus. I have often looked around our home and wondered what if I literally sold it all? A young man approached Jesus asking what good thing must he do to receive eternal life. Jesus replied, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Just think about that for a minute. What if we sold all our material prosperity and gave the money to the poor? What if?

Charlie Brown struggled with the meaning of Christmas and the trappings of consumerism until Linus tells him the true meaning of Christmas.

And, even the Grinch in all his grinchiness finally grasps:

“He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. “How could it be so?

It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!”

He puzzled and puzzled til his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.

Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”

The abundant life is about eternity with Jesus – “setting our minds on things above” and “storing up treasures in heaven.”  The abundant life is a state of being from within and living it outwardly toward others. The abundant life is a continual, un-ending season of giving; it is living out our faith through good deeds and blessing others. The abundant life is following Jesus.

Love you, mean it!

Come, Emmanuel by Twila Paris

Album: House of Worship, 2003

Come and speak to us
Come and renew us
Come and live through us, Emmanuel
Grace to implore us
Ever before us
Come and restore us, Emmanuel

Come Emmanuel
Come Emmanuel
[x2]

Once mercy found us
Still You astound us
Hold and surround us, Emmanuel
Living inside us
Faithful to guide us
Cover and hide us, Emmanuel

Love that begins us
Pardons and wins us
Come and reign in us, Emmanuel
Come and speak to us
Fill and renew us
Come and live through us, Emmanuel

Frankincense: The King of Oils

Frankincense

Often, I have a goal of reading through the Bible in one year, and often I have found it to be quite enlightening, edifying, and enriching (and there is my three-point sermon…). The one-year path feels like a sprint to cross that finish line; it is a hard push and honestly at times, the pressure can scrape up a bit of irritation and annoyance. I feel like I miss out on the power of stopping to smell the roses and the reverence of taking in the scenery – the study, the meditation, and hearing that still small voice. So, this year I have been choosing random books. I meandered through the prophetic message of salvation in Isaiah, spent many months strolling through the rhythm of the Psalms, inhaled Job for about the fiftieth time, and this past week finished reading about my fleeting life in Ecclesiastes.   

Every time I do the one-year plan, I venture into Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers packed with rules, rules, and more rules. Several times reading through it, I thought to myself, “God, how could anyone ever remember all these instructions regarding rituals and legal and moral practices for holy living?” The next time I came upon my missionary endeavor, I literally stopped and prayed. I asked God to show me truth about His reasoning for all these manners of conduct. As I was scurrying through the text, I heard the Spirit speak to me in that still small voice, “Deeon, these rules were not meant to harm the Israelites, they were meant to protect them.” I really had to step back and soak in that revelation. That little rocky crag in my heart softened. It changed my perception. As I continued reading, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers took on richer meaning. This was not about some punitive God trying to inflict punishment through laws, this code of conduct was about a holy, loving God living in their midst.  Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, as is the entire Bible, is God’s message of His presence, His power, and His sovereignty offering reconciliation from sin and a passageway to forgiveness because He loves us beyond comprehension.

At any rate, I am intentionally choosing to read the book of Leviticus unhurried. I am trying to dig underneath and marinate on all the many ways in which God is protecting His people. Here is an example: near the beginning of Leviticus, the guidelines for the Grain Offering are rendered. Depending on the version of scripture (I lean toward the ESV or NKJV), the text states to put frankincense on the Grain Offering if it is fine flour. I am a “why?” kind of gal. These offerings are burnt on the altar. Have you ever smelled burnt bread – not so much a pleasing odor? Perhaps, the frankincense rendered that “pleasing aroma” to God, that aroma that represented the substitutionary atonement for sin, which is pleasing to God. Yet, I believe frankincense, the king of oils, had a multilateral purpose. What I mean is that the frankincense was a pleasing aroma to God, which I believe holds deeper meaning than I have studied, but it was not unilateral, only for Him. I believe God created and used frankincense as a medicinal protection for the Israelites.  

From an article entitled, Frankincense, The Holy Grail of Essential Oils:                                                

Here are a few other points of interest about Frankincense:

Frankincense, also known as Olibanum, comes from the resin of the Boswellia tree grown in Africa and the Middle East, particularly in Oman, Somalia, and Ethiopia, though the finest comes from Arabia. Careful incisions are made in the tree at key times of year, and the sap slowly pours out. Once the sap dries and hardens it is ready to be used. The first period of tapping occurs from January to March and the second from August to October. After tapping has continued for five or six years, the trees are rested (the irony that God created through the sixth day and then rested on the seventh.) Frankincense has a woody, spicy smell. Now, I have a little bottle of Frankincense oil and indeed the smell is woody and spicy. I think for some it would be a scent that gains acquired appreciation, though I have always liked the scent and whiff on my little vile occasionally.

“Traditionally, frankincense was used for hundreds of years in incense, primarily in ancient rituals because of its promise to bring tremendous healing properties. Priests, rabbis, and medicine men around the world—especially in the Middle East—appreciated the essential oil for its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and rejuvenating properties.

Early use of frankincense resin was reserved for religious services, where it was burned as incense with the intention of the scent floating up invisibly to heaven in order to attract God’s attention. Historically, burning the resin was also a tool to vanquish negative energies or hold evil spirits at bay. To this day, it is commonly used in churches and temples and believed to affect us at our deepest level, setting our spirit free. The ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks all used frankincense in their religious rituals. Similarly, the Chinese have been known to use it for years.

Frankincense was so valuable during ancient times that it was literally worth its weight in gold. Some cultures even prized it more than gold, making it an integral part of the Silk Road trade. Overall, it has been high in demand, from early history all the way to today.”

History, modern medicine, research, and the advancement of technology have offered some thought-provoking theories about frankincense:

Sacredly, when used during meditation, frankincense can be purifying to the mind, create a connection to one’s soul, and offer spiritual protection.

The smoke from burning frankincense drives out mosquitoes, pests, and other flying insects, reducing incidence of malaria and other insect transmitting diseases.

Frankincense has anti-inflammatory effects that may help reduce symptoms of joint inflammation caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Frankincense may help reduce symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis by reducing inflammation in the gut.

Frankincense may help reduce the likelihood of bronchial and sinus infections and asthma attacks in susceptible people. It may also open breathing passageways and increase lung capacity, thus relieving symptoms, such as shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and as well reduces phlegm.

Frankincense has antibacterial properties. Clinical studies at major universities in Egypt and in the United States have shown that frankincense has fantastic immune-enhancing abilities. These studies reveal that frankincense can fight dangerous bacteria and viruses throughout the body by providing immunostimulants. When applied topically, these benefits will work to create a layer of protection against bacterial and viral infections. When used aromatically, the same benefits manifest internally while working to heal your body from the inside out.

Frankincense has antimicrobial and antiseptic benefits, working to destroy harmful germs and bacteria upon contact, whether on the body or on surfaces throughout the home.  It may help prevent bad breath, toothaches, cavities, and mouth sores.

As a beauty Serum, frankincense can revive, rejuvenate, and strengthen skin health, adding elasticity to the skin. It may reduce the appearance of wrinkles and scars, smooth the complexion, prevent acne, even out blemishes, heal minor wounds, help reverse damage caused by UV rays, fade stretch marks, and heal cracked skin.

Frankincense is supportive of cellular function. It can assist with healthy cell function by promoting cell and tissue regeneration. So far, test-tube studies suggest that frankincense may fight breast, ovarian, skin, and colon cancer cells. The small study indicates that it may also help reduce side effects of cancer and may help kill cancer cells and prevent tumors from spreading. It can suppress cancer cells viability.

Psychologically and emotionally, frankincense, through aromatherapy, reduces the heart rate promoting relaxation, balancing moods, reducing anxiety, and calming and lifting the spirit. 

And, there are a few additional opinions hanging out there for which studies have not been performed. Frankincense could possibly help to prevent diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels; may aid in preventing heart disease by reducing inflammation; could improve sleep quality; may well boost memory and cognitive function; and quite possibly balance female hormones — delaying menopause, and reducing menstrual cramping, nausea, headaches, and mood swings.   

An altar of incense burned inside the tabernacle. This incense was a specific recipe of spices mixed with “pure frankincense.” God gave the recipe and stipulated that only this incense, and no other, was permitted to be burned on the altar of incense, and this incense recipe must not be used anywhere or by anyone else or else they will be cut off from their people. Aaron was instructed to burn incense on the altar each morning and at twilight, every day, as a regular offering to the Lord. To release its scent, the frankincense was either burned or smoldered over hot coals.

The Altar of Incense

Frankincense complemented many offerings and sacrifices. Frankincense was extensively used in burial rituals as part of the embalming material as an offering to the departed, a means to cover the odor of the dead body, and I believe to create purification from the potential risks of chronic infectious diseases.

The market for frankincense was unlimited. It created commerce and trade, via merchant ships and camel caravans. In essence, it was a form of currency. Whereas other exotic spices and aromatics were luxury items, frankincense, though expensive was a household necessity, a basic staple. An article from the New York Times states:

 “In January of 1997, exploring the remote back country of Yemen, over hills and through valleys and ravines, a party of archeologists came upon ruins and monuments from the time when frankincense and myrrh were among the world’s most coveted commodities. In the 10th century B.C., the biblical Queen of Sheba is supposed to have ruled in golden splendor over this land on the southern rim of the Arabian Peninsula. For several hundred years before and after the birth of Christ, it was a major emporium of the ancient world. Spices and textiles arrived by ship from India, silk from China and gold and ostrich feathers from Ethiopia. These goods were then packed off by camel caravan to Egypt and Persia, to Palmyra in Syria and, often as not, on to Rome. Nothing in the shipments was more prized than the two locally grown gum-resin products, frankincense and myrrh. “

They say the encampment of the Israelites, though highly structured and orderly, was about the size of Houston, Texas, the ninth largest city in the US. Now think of Houston as an entire city of refugees. Some scholars estimate the total Exodus population, including men, women, and children to be around 2.5 million people. Houston’s current population is about 2.3 million. Now imagine Houston as a desolate, barren wilderness where these refugees are, with precision as directed by God, encamped in tents throughout the entire region. The potential for widespread disease is immensely problematic. Now I do not know if every household contained frankincense for personal use, but I do know every morning and evening frankincense was burned in the tabernacle, releasing smoke and fumes upward into the air. This was holy and reverent, symbolizing the prayers of the people rising up to God, which was a pleasing aroma to Him. But, secondarily, I believe the incense served to purify the air in the encampment consequentially benefiting the refugees with all the potential of frankincense described above. The Bible is not clear on these likelihoods, but that is what I believe, and I am sticking to it. I believe God knew the need beforehand. I believe God planned everything out beforehand. Frankincense is a mere fraction of all the ways God sought to protect His people. So you see, the Bible is not all about rules, it is about God’s protection, provisions, and ultimately His love. It is a clear reminder to me, He knows the way that I take, He works all things together for my good, and His love is everlasting and higher than the heavens. I am so thankful for the Holy Spirit’s little whispers and teachings as I persist in reading scripture.

Love you, mean it!