31 Days of Celebrating the Middle {Choose to Dare Greatly}

Ecclesiastes says "Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof."

It would be easy to begin the Boston Marathon.  It would be amazing to cross the finish line.

I hear it's the middle that bites.  Every time.  The middle is that place in life where all your mistakes - every error in judgment - begins to show.  You can't hide it anymore.  You can't hide those extra pounds, that red convertible, that divorce, or that strained relationship. You can't mask your own lack of passion or zeal for life. 

Your finish line - your entire destiny -  depends on the quality of the choices you make in the middle.

Hang in there.  Dig in and settle down to work.  Choose to dare greatly, and then choose not to quit.

I adapted a Teddy Roosevelt quote for us.  Seemed appropriate, just now...

“It is not the critic who counts; not the woman who points out how the strong woman stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends herself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if she fails, at least she fails while daring greatly. So that her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”


31 Days of Celebrating Middle Age {5 Indications You May Be in a Real Crisis }

So you, like me, can admit to "seeing men as trees walking".  You see, but you don't see.  You are on your way to being healed...you just aren't there yet.

Or maybe you, like me in years past, need a little more convincing that your perspective on life and spiritual things is blurry and as yet unclear.  You think you are seeing clearly, but that's only because you think that what you see, is all there is to see. 

Ah!  There is so much more to be aware of, if that's the case.  Even if you don't think you  need mercy, there is Mercy in the Middle for you.

5 Indicators of Mid-Life Deception {Warning:  Course Correction Necessary}

1.  When you find yourself withholding worship and service. 

      ...because you're older now.  You are busy.  You are tired.  You have a career to build or maintain.  You have a family.  You are educated and smart, now.  When you were younger, you used to worship and serve with passion, but you've "matured" since then.

2.  When you find yourself gravitating to extremes: 

    ...either letting go of Godly habits, at the expense of your witness;  or locking down on Godly habits at the expense of your relationships.

3.  When you find yourself with a growing attraction to the world

      ...regardless of how we seek to put our "spin" on it, or justify it, the fact is we are more concerned with building our own house, than we are with building up the house of God (which is always His people).  Somebody has to work to pay for all the toys, right?

4.  When you find yourself in rebellion against legitimate authority

     ....because, well, you know.  That man is not the boss of you.  You've worked hard, and you have your own gifts. You are beyond needing to be under authority.

Well, then you are the exception to the rule, only in the whole history of ever!  Once again, carefully  note that I use the term legitimate authority.  The difference between legitimate authority, and illegitimate authority is motive and track record.  Please see the above link for further clarification.

5.  When you find yourself with theological doubts.

     ...all that stuff you used to believe about the sovereignty of God?  You aren't so sure anymore.  In fact, you are a bit jaded and critical of those who do believe and teach.  You mask it well by saying, "All I know for sure, is that I don't know anything for sure."  Sounds so humble, but guess what?

You can know for sure.

 The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.  (Deut. 29:29)

PS. and by the way...the thing revealed to us today is Christ.  It is no longer the law.  Under the Old Covenant, the law was all they had.  God designed it that way.  But now, all God wants you to know, and all you can know for sure, is Christ.

God has chosen to make known...the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  (Colossians 1:27)

Hear the words of the greatest keeper of the law that ever was, other than Jesus Himself, the apostle Paul:

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (I Corinthians 2:2)


One of the best books on distinguishing between law and grace is Silent Killers of the Faith (Overcoming Legalism and Performance Based Religion) by Dr. Steve Crosby


31 Days of Celebrating Middle Age {What Do You See?}

So here we are, throwing a word-party for The Middle.  I can't tell you how much it means to me that you'd even come.

No, really.  I mean it.  Who does that?  Only us...only you and me. 

"The Middle".  We stereotype it, we attempt to prepare for it, we compensate for it.  And we instinctively, I think, fear it. 

You have your "middle children".  Don't listen to what the psychologists say about them, whatever you do!  You have "the middle school years" - the most difficult of all of childhood, research has proven.  And you have your mid-life crisis.  Why are middling things so hard?  It seems that the middle of anything is guaranteed to have its hopeless moments.

God has made dear and precious and very personal promises to each one of us.  But in the middle, we often don't yet see the full manifestation of them.  We have experienced the healing touch of Christ in our lives, but only in measure.  Those promises are closer to fulfillment now than ever before, but we still only see them "as trees walking".

Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, "Do you see anything?"And he looked up and said, "I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around." (Mark 8:23, 24)

Very God asks you and I today, "Do you see anything?"

He asks us, not because He doesn't already know the answer, and not because He doesn't intend to fully restore us.

He asks us, because we need to acknowledge that we don't yet see as we ought.

Particularly if you are still under the law, if there is any link between your performance and God's acceptance and therefore His favor,  you still see "men as trees walking". You've experienced the touch of Jesus, maybe even come to a saving knowledge, but you are not seeing clearly. Yet you might go years - alas, decades - insisting that you see just fine.

Then, one day, you hear the gospel preached by a pastor-teacher who is walking in a New Covenant understanding, and you realize that "seeing men as trees walking" isn't the same as seeing Jesus clearly and centrally. You have not been seeing the world as you could and should.

Does this offend you?

Let Jesus put His hands on you again, afresh. The moment you see the God of all grace, the moment your focus is on the finished work of Christ and not on your performance, you finally see everyone else clearly, and through the eyes of love. In fact, through the lens of the gospel of grace, as taught in all the New Testament, everything in all of Scripture becomes clear.

Once you clearly see the difference between an Old Covenant understanding of God, and a New Covenant reality...once you see that all of Scripture, Genesis to Revelation, is really about Jesus...once you see that God thought it wisdom to reconcile us through Him, and impute to us His obedience...

...well, when you suddenly see all that, you will see exactly "why the (heck) it means so much to me" to tell the world.

The power to be
The power to give
The power to see, yeah, yeah (suddenly I see)
She got the power to be
The power to give
The power to see, yeah, yeah (suddenly I see)
She got the power to be
The power to give
The power to see, yeah, yeah, yeah (suddenly I see)
She got the power to be
The power to give
The power to see, yeah, yeah (suddenly I see)
She got the power to be
The power to give
The power to see, yeah, yeah

Your Spirit - Part III {In the Middle}

 31 Days of Celebrating Middle Age

I know, right?  The middle is barely acknowledged, much less celebrated.  All of us have blown up balloons and wrapped presents for beginnings.  We all have assembled and remembered and brought flowers to endings.  But no normal person throws a word-party simply because...

...we're alive...

...we're here...

...we have regrets...

...we don't give a rip...

...we will celebrate anyhow...

No, this is no normal celebration, because I am no normal middle aged woman, and neither are you, thankyouverymuch.  Hide the husband, hide the kids, because I hope to unleash a whole army of women who celebrate for No Real Reason...

...who celebrate the middle, just because It Is What It Is.

And we will not be held captive to regret.

Hell, no. 

Heaven, yes.  A thousand times, yes.

If you have not yet purchased the book by Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts:  A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are please stop here, and go get it.  (link above)  Go on.  I'll wait.

Did you get it?  Good.  It is a weapon in your Party Arsenal.  If you think of Ann's book as your very own .22 caliber handgun, then please also think of this blog as your very own roundhouse-dropkick-to-the-backside of regret. 

Oh, and also think of this blog as an offense to religious spirits everywhere.

I'd be honored if you did.

It is past time that we live free from regret.  This can only be done by living our lives in the light of the New Covenant.

This is the song my spirit sings over you...right now!

Your Spirit - Part II {In the Middle}

Welcome to 31 Days of Celebrating the Middle!

Regret is the culture of life after The Fall (in the story of Genesis), and regret is a chief characteristic of the middle.  Regret is woven into the warp and weft of the fabric of our days.  Mid-life is when we feel it most keenly - like the first twinges of pain in an arthritic knee we injured in our youth.

We feel the pangs of it in our marriage, our finances, our parenting,  our work.  No one...no, not one...reaches the middle with a perfect track record.  When we were very young, we had what seemed to be unlimited do-overs ahead of us.  Now, we realize there are no do-overs, there is only the grace of God to fall back on. 

This is why an Old Covenant understanding of God will strangle you, come middle age.  If you don't understand that the law was "given", but Grace "came"* - if you are looking at the cross and not  through the cross, you may not survive the regret.  You might just join the ranks of dry bones that populate most churches.

Gone, by and large, by age 45, is the elasticity of the teenager. You tend to not snap back from the big disappointments, much less from the big mistakes. If you stumble and fall at 50, you tend to stay stubbornly down, because either you will not change your mind, or you no longer care.

I believe the enemy of your soul knows this, and ruthlessly uses it to his advantage.

I will be 47 years old one month from today (November 3, 2013) -  so I don't have time to mess around getting this message out to you, so I am just going to say it, instead of segue:

If you are feeling an urgent need for "a change", that is exactly the time you must be still.

Perfectly. Still.

Don't you change one thing until the peace of God returns to you. You dwell in the land right where you are, and cultivate continuity. Faithfulness. Consistency. A holy "Sameness". You tough it out and work it out and clean it out until you are happy with your same life again. You do that until you are completely content with your life as God has given it.

That isn't an unhealthy way to cope with middle age feelings of frustration or meaninglessness, despite what shrinks or therapists are saying. Do not "take the plunge" and "do something entirely new" with your life.  Do not reinvent yourself.

The original you is still in there, and she is who God designed you to be.  Bring her into this season, healed and whole and intact.

When your life is being gnawed at by a sense of meaninglessness, when you are bored, don't run out and build a farm or start a flock of guineas or buy a few Nubian goats or build a mansion or get a new job or get a divorce or move to a new state or leave your church or start a ministry. I would not even add on to my house, if I were you.

Because it is a trap, nine times out of ten. It is usually, at least, a waste of time. What was begun out of discontent does not suddenly become the source of contentment. Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in God - nothing else.  (That's another Augustine quote, by the way.)

Get still, confront the meaninglessness, and wait for that death angel to pass over you. You are covered by the blood, and it will pass over. I repeat: Do. Not. React.
You don't create the real, God-kind of change. The God-kind of change creates you. It finds you. It discovers you. It changes you. Think of every Bible example you know. Real God-change found Sarah. It found Abraham. It found Moses. It found David. It found Peter on the fishing boat. It found a wee little man, that tax collector up in a tree. It found Paul on his horse, when he was still Saul.

Self perpetuated, self activated "change" leads to closed Edens, dead brothers, Ishmaels, silly towers - monuments to the flesh, the wrong king, the wrong decision, forsaken friends, betrayal, and liars dropping dead in God's house.

You are struggling with finding meaning or passion or purpose in the middle, not because you need a change, but rather because you have not infused your ordinary day with meaning.

Meaning is not something we "get out of life". Meaning is something we put into it. Like it or not, you are the one responsible to number your days.

So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom. Ps. 90:12

The Hebrew word for "number" means to "name". It means to "assign meaning to what is".

Dominion is still your original purpose, and naming what lies before you is still your original job - just like the first man Adam. You can't take dominion where you are not, you can only take dominion from where you are.

Wisdom is in the sight of him who has understanding, But the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth. Pr. 17:24

If you are wise, all the meaning you need in life is right in front of you. But the eyes of a fool are always on what isn't right in front of him - searching for meaning from the outside in. A fool is always in a position of needing to do something different for the sake of doing something different - as a means of self-medicating against the meaninglessness that the preacher in Ecclesiastes always spoke of...

"Vanity (Or meaninglessness) of vanities," says the Preacher; "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Eccl.

Friend, if you are in the grip of those middle ages of disappointment and a feeling that all is absurd, if you are drowning in depression or restlessness, I wish I could just sit with you and help you be still. If you are a woman, I wish I could hug you until the feelings pass. I wish I could "shush" you, dry your tears, and make you laugh and hope again.

I remember wishing that someone could do that for me. And some of the very ones I hoped could help, couldn't. And some of the very ones I thought would be there, left. And some of the very ones I trusted, were the ones least to be trusted, the ones that hurt me the most. And it was a wonderful, bountiful dealing for my soul. And it led me to learn to worship, leaning on my staff of truth, favoring that hip put out of joint by that wrestling match...such a long, long night of the soul.

I can't do much, but I can promise you, if you be still, you will know that He is God. And He will be exalted, yes, even in your life. Your soul is restless till it finds its rest in God - nothing else.

Return to your rest, O my soul, For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. Ps. 116:7

Here are some of the best resources for understanding the doctrines of grace:
Grace Plus Nothing, by Jeff Harkin
Anything by Tullian Tchividjian (the grandson of the great Billy Graham)
* John chapter 1

Your Spirit {In the Middle}

Welcome to 31 Days of Celebrating the Middle!
I have found what I think is an apt metaphor for the spiritual condition of many women in middle age - the ancient Chinese custom of foot binding.  Bear with me, I think this will make sense to you.
"The Chinese women used to have their feet bound.  Small toeless feet were supposed to be a thing of beauty, and a proof that the woman had never had to work in the fields.  Country girls who had to work hard had unbound, free feet, but the women who were aristocratic or wealthy had to hobble around or be carried, on feet that had had the toes bound underneath to prevent growth;  little-girl feet that were painfully kept from being the lovely free things feet were made to be in the first place.  It is a horrible thought, purposely destroying, by breaking and binding up, the feet that could otherwise have walked, run, jumped, danced, skipped and hopped.  But some Christians have...needlessly crippled their personalities from running, walking and skipping."
(Edith Schaeffer, from her book Hidden Art
Girlfriend, I will get to the point:  It is your time to dance again, like you did as a little girl, before your feet were bound by the ties of Christian legalism.  
The biggest turning point in my" life in the middle" came when my Preacher-husband began preaching on the doctrines of grace in January of 2009.  He had preached on grace before, but suddenly he became like a man on fire.  He seemed gripped by a steely determination to preach grace as though lives depended on it.  Little did The Preacher know, at least one life was at risk:  mine  
I was held fast in what I know now to be the dark grip of clinical depression.  My two sons were showing signs of rebellion, and my heart wept with Jeremiah:
For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water, because the comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me: my children are desolate, because the enemy prevailed. (Lam. 1:6)

Bit by bit, inch by inch, Sunday by Sunday, as I sat under the preaching of grace, the veil of Old Covenant law was removed from my face, and I could see God in the face of Jesus Christ.
A Christian life based on my performance had bound my feet from a very young age.  Thinking that my life could be blessed to any degree by keeping the law - my choosing to live under an expired covenant -  had bound my feet, lo these many decades. 
Suddenly, it had caught up with me.  In a serious way, it had caught up with me.  It was a severe mercy in my middle, and I thank God for it.  Most spiritual renewals start out feeling like nervous breakdowns.
I fell in love with the God of all grace, as He really is.  There I was, having been a Christian for 37 years, and only then was I falling in love with God as He really is...God, in the face of Jesus Christ.  
Tears coursed down my cheeks one night, as I read these words, and felt them come alive:
Belatedly I loved thee,
O Beauty so ancient and so new, belatedly I loved thee.
For see, thou wast within and I was without, and I sought thee out there.
Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things thou hast made.
Thou wast with me, but I was not with thee.
These things kept me far from thee; even though they were not at all unless they were in thee.
Thou didst call and cry aloud, and didst force open my deafness.
Thou didst gleam and shine, and didst chase away my blindness.
Thou didst breathe fragrant odors and I drew in my breath; and now I pant for thee.
 I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. Thou didst touch me, and I burned for thy peace.  
Augustine of Hippo, Confessions    
Please give me a little time, this month, to unpack these things of law and grace - Old Covenant and New -  with you.  Please investigate the resources I will share with you, if any of this resonates with your spiritual condition right now. 

31 Days of Celebrating the Middle {Welcome}

        Welcome to 31 Days of Celebrating the Middle!
So much emphasis is placed on beginnings and endings.  Almost all beginnings and endings are marked with ceremony or celebration.  Beginnings and endings have whole volumes of song and poetry written about them.   As a woman, I think my two biggest personal expenses in life, when it is all said and done, will be my wedding and my funeral.  Both should involve gorgeous flowers, and poignant ceremony.

Very few souls have had the wisdom to understand the middle, much less sing over it or celebrate it.  Any book or movie or project or life story can be muddled and unclear and messy in the middle.  Many tensions lie there, quietly unresolved. 
We are in the middle.  We can't imagine how all this might end. 
But those who know the One Who holds the future, ah...we can sing over the middle.  In fact, the God of heaven and earth does sing over your middle! 
The LORD thy God  in your middle is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17) 
 I believe God brought you here, because you need strong encouragement.  You are either 1.  in the middle, or 2.  about to be in the middle-time of life, or 3.  you are in the middle of something, and you just need to know that Somebody sees the end from the middle and has a plan.
The middle is characterized by a few lost battles.  Maybe even many, many lost battles.   Somewhere, someone you love is deeply wounded.  It can seem that an allusive enemy has prevailed. 

Take heart.  It's just one of the mile-markers that indicates you are in the middle.  Somewhere in your life, it looks like an enemy of apathy, addiction, depression, or the death of a relationship - it looks like one or more of these things have won the battle over you or someone you care about. 

Not so.  Hang with me for the next 30 days, and I will prove it.
Here today, and for the next 30 days, “happy” is the order of the day – not in denial of life’s heartaches, but in the very presence of them.  The heart of God is to set a lavish table for you in the presence of your enemy – and to pour so much wine into the empty places of your heart, that you overflow with a sense of what is possible for you and those you love…right here in the middle. 
Please, please get this, if you get nothing else, this lovely October:  You are no less important at age 35 or 45 or 55, than you were at age 5.  Here’s the thing:  you need no less nurturing, either.  
I have good news for you.  Christ died so that you can be nurtured and profoundly comforted!  Hear the words of Jesus:
Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you.  (John 16:7) 
In this Comforter is found a deep, abiding sense of well being.  Here in this place of being comforted by Very God, right here - and here only - can you discover mercy for the middle. 
Work with me, if you can.  You promise to come back for the next 30 days, and I promise to pray, every time I sit in front of this keyboard, that you leave here encouraged and strengthened, and that God grant me great grace to yank a giggle or two out of you.  
Won't that be worth the price of admission? 
I will leave you here, this first day of our 31 Days of Celebrating the Middle, with a little something to help  you get your groove on.  Enjoy!