Would the real me please stand up?

I wonder if those of us who dream intensely and regularly while we sleep have a lot to say to ourselves? Some people give very little stock to dreams, but my favorite genre to read is biographies, and you’d be surprised how the course of many people’s lives has hinged on a single dream. Author Brennan Manning  was enrolled at Mizzou to go to journalism school. He lived here in Columbia for a little while but had a dream that he achieved everything the path journalistic fame would give him. After the dream, he realized “all that” wouldn’t be enough to satisfy and he changed his path to go into the priesthood. Dreams saved Jesus’ life about five times. Actually, dreams seemed to have had a bigger impact on people in the Bible than any modern-day person would care to admit. The trouble I have is trying to figure out if God is speaking to me in my dream, if I’m speaking to me, or if my brain is sorting the “fact cards” scattered through the day I just lived through?

One of the challenges in life is sifting through all the different viewpoints on any given topic and grabbing hold of my own personal belief on the matter. Recently I was challenged to come up with a personal theology of body, soul, and spirit. Not to just read someone else’s thoughts and adopt them as my own, but to consider several different viewpoints, research for myself, do some “field testing” and come up with something I could at least loosely hold onto. I’ve also done this with the topic of “dreams.” My main theory is that just as God designed our physical bodies to heal themselves (anything from blood coagulation to the entire immune system), I believe He also built dreaming into our psychological world to bring healing, balance, and restoration. Although, I’ve personally come up with about 12 different categories of dreams, I believe the primary purpose of dreams is to bring “unacceptable” or uncomfortable viewpoints that a part of me holds out into the open. This kind of dream would be me talking to me. I used to think I had LOTS of “God dreams, ” but now I’m pretty sure most of them are just me talking to me. Yes, I’ve had the occasional warning dream, the prophetic dream, the ancestor dream, the “I’ve got to pee” dream, and several “picking up on the spiritual atmosphere around me” dreams, but mostly I’m just trying to get my own attention.

Something I only recently discovered (which I found quite helpful) is that my “inner commentator” thinking during my dream is usually unrelated to the symbols in the dream. Here’s a funny example. I dreamed that I was on a road that was being re-paved. The whole top of the road had been torn off and it was being re-paved with cherry pie filling and gold dust. I immediately knew what that meant when I woke up because the conscious me knows that I’ve always closely held the idea of the trinity or God-head as a cherry pie cut into three identical slices (different, but the same, and “one”). And of course the heavenly road in Revelation is gold. So, the message was, “Jennie, you are on a “heavenly” path, one paved for you by the Lord.” The funniest part of the dream, though, was my inner commentator. In the dream I was thinking, “It’s going to be really hard to drive on that slippery pie filling. And I hope these road people know that as soon as they put the gold on the road it’s going to get stolen.” That dream taught me that the commentary wasn’t really part of the message of the dream, so now I try to think of a dream’s symbols & my thought commentary as separate, and they are much easier to understand.

Most of my dreams are house dreams because there’s a lot going on inside the “house” I call “me.” I’ve dealt with the witches in the attic,  and faced those fears by managing to whisper the name of Jesus.  I’ve dealt with the bones in the basement. I’ve faced “bears” and “wolves” and “crocodiles” and even “dinosaurs.” (Feeling out of control and helpless have been common themes in my dreams over the years.) Lately, flying dreams have returned to me. I never actually do the superman thing, but sometimes I can jump really high and defy gravity or hover above the ground. In most of my flying dreams I’m holding one of my children,  or I’m in a gymnasium while flying. I think those mean that the role of caring for my children has built interior strength in me…….parenting has been my training ground to learn to “rise above” the mundane-ness of everyday life. In fact, the enormous strength training produced by caring for such a large flock has maybe developed some supernatural abilities reflected in those flying dreams.

Usually my “awake self” can figure life out okay through prayer and friends and verbal processing. However, much of the healing occurring in me has to do with identity. Intense group counseling, marriage counseling, and inner healing ministry have all played a part over the last few years. The “me” that talks while I’m sleeping is getting heard in those counseling rooms and my personality is becoming more integrated. There is a LOT of different language to describe the self. There’s the inner child, the unconscious, the authentic self, the original self, the imposter, masks, repressed desires, fear can be personified as part of the self, especially through trauma. Id, ego, and super-ego are one way to look at it. Body, soul, spirit, heart, mind, Holy Spirit are all in there somewhere, right? Sometimes two people are talking about the same thing, but using different lingo, so it’s difficult to figure it all out.

So identity is quite complicated. I personally think that the tattoo fad is all about identity and not about rebellion. My high school girls have a classmate who always acts like a cat. It’s bizarre, but could it be an identity issue?

Who am I? Beneath all the crap of life. Beneath all the cultural indoctrination. Beneath the mixture of spiritual truths and lies. Who am I, when I am not scared to be that person? I’m pretty sure the real Jennie is the one I’ve known best when I’m at home with my kids and no one else is around. God’s healing has peeled back layer after layer of hurt and protection and this real me is beginning to stand up and shine. She’s goofy and likes really loud music one day….. and likes order, candlelight, and books about mysticism the next. Jennie loves God and is growing to hate religion. She loves the real Jesus. The one John Eldridge talks about in “The Beautiful Outlaw.” Jennie Belzer really loves people. I have not met a person I cannot see myself living next to in heaven if I had to. I am a little bird that has the strength to fly hundreds of miles, but is fragile enough to be crushed by a human hand. The real me likes to hear God speak in dreams and mysteries. And I LOVE that God gave me a light blue, 1990 Chevrolet Caprice and that I have the phone numbers of a few interesting characters in my phone because of that car!

Who are you? Do you have a clue? What are you saying to yourself in your dreams?

This morning I woke up and helped Gracie get on the bus, then went back to sleep. I dreamed 4 times that I woke up, but each time I “woke up” I was still in the dream. I then really woke up very, very shaken and crying. One image that kept repeating was me trying to take four rings off my fingers only to find them still on. Late this afternoon my daughter Maggie called from IHOP (international house of prayer). At the end of our conversation I told her a little about the dream and asked, “Maggie, would you pray that if God wants me to know something from this dream that He will give me understanding?” I hung up, took one step, looked down and saw a thick gold ring laying in the grass. Uh….. I think God threw His head back a laughed and maybe a couple angels did too?!  I picked the ring up and later my son Micah said, “I wondered where that went. It was the Lord of the Rings game ring, and when I threw a football Sunday, the ring flew off my finger.” The Lord knows me, the real me.  I find great comfort in knowing somebody knows me, even when I don’t know myself. Sweet dreams, friends.

 

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Faith to fail.

I missed a plane for the first time in my life this week, and I didn’t even have a good reason. I got up at 2:30am and drove to the airport, but I underestimated how much time I would need to shuttle over from long-term parking. On the shuttle I was praying for help and hoped for a miracle. I’ve heard many true stories of answered prayers where planes were delayed and believers made it through the gate in the nick of time. I had the faith for that. But this time the polite agent at the ticket counter said, “You’re too late. This is a non-refundable or transferable ticket, but here’s Delta’s number, you can call them.” So, I called and for a small fee was able to change to a flight six hours later. Then I sat down in the terminal and cried.

I cried because  because I didn’t take the time to do correct mental math to get to the airport on time. I cried because I was tired and had a long, stressful week leading up to that moment. I cried because I had failed and it hurt. Then I texted my sister in Boston and had to face the fact that a flight delay was going to cause her some inconvenience in picking me up. I hate disappointing people and making them work harder because of my weaknesses. Interestingly, my sister texted back that it was no big deal, she was happy to rearrange her day, and her husband was even willing to leave work and miss a meeting for me. In that moment I received a deeper gift from God than the miracle of a plane being delayed……I realized that I am valuable. To give a person dignity is to look them in the eye and say, “You’re worth my time. You don’t have to perform at perfectionist level for me to want to be with you. In fact, I kinda like your funny flaws because they remind me you’re human like me.”

Dignity. To be treated as a whole and complete person. To be worthy of honor and respect. Dignity. It is the gift Jesus in flesh gave to the person who happened to be in front of Him. A prostitute. A rich, young ruler. A fisherman.

One of my mentors uses the phrase “failing forward” to describe his philosophy of growth. He takes some big risks and sometimes he fails big, but he fails forward, learning significantly from his mistakes. “Die climbing,” is the essence of the view. One must be somewhat fearless to follow this path, it necessarily puts your reputation in peril.  A people pleaser would mostly likely give up after the first failure. I admit, this is not a path I’ve walked well. Like most people, I prefer to do things I’m good at….and let my best side be visible to others. It backfires though…..one is often raised up in the minds of others to the level of a demi-god, which is ridiculous, and then when one fails to live out perfection, there is a mighty crash back to earth in those same minds.

So back to real life. I didn’t have to wait six hours in the Kansas City airport after all. I got an earlier flight, but then again, my bag didn’t show up when I did, so there was more inconvenience for my sister, with another trip back to the airport.  I had a great week visiting dear friends and family…..deliciously authentic and fun. But when I was dropped off at the Boston airport for my return trip, lo and behold, all those ticket switches ended up in an error which had cancelled the reservation for my return flight. This time I didn’t cry. I had the deepest sense of inner peace I’ve had in my life. I wondered what my God had up His sleeve, and I sensed it was something good. It was. Delta shuttled me to the Hyatt Regency on the Boston Harbor. I watched the sunset while eating a delicious meal at the hotel restaurant. I took a long, hot bath and caught an early morning flight. And I learned that my wretched imperfections still don’t make me powerful enough to mess up my own life. There is peace in knowing that.

 

For every book there is a season.

I have many books, books I have never read because it was not the right time.When it is the right time, a book speaks to me from the shelf, and I know there is something in it my spirit needs to know. Ten years ago a friend told me about a book I should read. I immediately ordered a used copy and that book has been shuffled around for ten years waiting, waiting to say, “Now is my time. Reach for me now.” It is a novel and I very, very rarely read novels. Biographies frequently. The mystics often. Classics once in awhile. Novels almost never. But this book waited patiently for me, and last week its time finally  came.

Its time came the day after I finished a forty day spiritual fast. My temple needed cleansing. I was not interested in physical cleansing or eating clean, I was only interested in Light shining in the darkness of my inner being. I refrained from eating sugar, caffeine, and using screens for entertainment. My body fought back for several days, and my head felt as if it would explode. Can one die of caffeine withdrawal? Every few days I felt a spiritual shift, almost imperceptible.When I drove through town running errands my soul fought back. “I DESERVE a treat. Fill my empty places with food and drink.” For once in my life I felt the power of a fruit of the spirit at work in me called self-control. I was not saying, “No.” My spirit mingled with God’s was at work in a way that truly intrigued me. I had been praying for months, “Enlarge my spirit! I want discernment! I want wisdom! More than money. More than peace. I cry out to the God of Abraham who hears me also, I want understanding!” And for forty days that looked quite ordinary something was being cleansed in me. During this period I had dream after dream of being in a house or a church or an apartment sweeping, throwing out furniture, vacuuming. Something was happening. “Lord, free me from all bondage, break my chains, shine Light in the darkness.”

On about day 36 I began to see that sugar, caffeine, and entertainment had acted in two main capacities in my life. One as medication for my pain. And secondly, as false connections between other people and myself. When the medication was taken away, my inner pain level rose significantly, enough to get my conscious (and unconscious) attention. As food disappeared as a bond between me and my family and my social situations, I saw a shallowness that was troubling. Somehow, sitting beside another person watching a story deceives one into believing that the story and emotions one is viewing is actually part of one’s own life. Not true. It is a virtual reality masking the poverty of most of our lives. Not that I am against treats, movies, or anything else, but for the first time I saw how they were stripping me of good things and not adding to my human experience.

The book I am reading now, the novel (which I am not planning on naming unless asked personally) has inspired me to see, to feel, to connect with the part of me I am scared of. The part of me that sees my life for what it truly is and proclaims, “There is dissonance between your face and your heart, Jennie. Come into alignment with yourself and stand up with courage to be who you know you are.”  I have not thought of myself, ever, as a strong person. But rationally, I know, “You cannot raise twelve kids and do what you do everyday without strength. You have it, you’ve just never owned it.”

Today I embrace myself as God made me–body, soul, and spirit…..heart, mind, soul, and strength–just as I have embraced the Lord with all of these, all that I am. He has overturned the money tables and made space for true worship.

 

 

The Hard Work of Knowing God and Losing Weight

I know exactly why weight-loss books are best sellers. It is very, very easy to buy a book……even an expensive one. “If I buy this book, I’ll lose weight,” I say to myself. It is slightly harder to actually read the book. Sitting as a decoration on my bookshelf as one walks in my front door is a beautiful little book called, “Eating Pure in a Processed World.” Looking at it sitting there makes me feel reeeeally healthy. (I’m not joking.) And, it makes me look healthy to other people who come to my home. But here is the hard truth:  What is exponentially harder than buying or reading a book, is doing the hard work of applying the principles in said book to one’s daily life. Losing weight and learning to cook healthy recipes requires a daily investment of energy and emotion.  Truth be told, I did make one recipe out of the “Eating Pure” book. I made caramelized onions. There was a “front end load” to that new recipe (time and effort), but since the first time my husband and I tasted and loved this amazing treat, I’ve made them multiple times (from memory) and my quality of life has improved. (Well, my taste buds are happier, anyway.)

But this is not a blog about eating healthy. This is Jennie Belzer’s testimony about the hard work of knowing God. Why is my shelf full of books written by people who knew God? Because it is easy to click on Amazon “one click purchase” and buy a used book for a dollar or two. I buy good books too! They are not fluff. Often they are full of the riches of wisdom of someone who spent a lifetime investing themselves in knowing and walking with God. Do you think Hannah Hurnard just thought up the allegory contained in “Hind’s Feet on High Places”? No, she went through years of a personal journey and transformation with the Shepherd in real life and real time. She experienced the real pain of walking with those two companions–Sorrow and Suffering. The first time I read that book, when I found out what her companions’ names were, I didn’t want to keep reading it. Hannah Hurnard paid a price in life to write a book that had what Amy Carmichael (19th century missionary) calls “fire words.” These are words that carry authority. Good books inspire us.

So I buy these books. And I actually do read them. I even write about them. I do this because deep in my heart of hearts I want to know God. I want the privilege of being called a friend of God. I want Him to look at me and exclaim, “I know you, Jennie Belzer!” Yes, we all want this as much or more than we want to lose 10 pounds, but are we willing to do the work to get the results?? That is the question. Well……do you think friendship with God is worth it? Do you have a little grudge against Him that makes it easy to keep your distance? Do you say to yourself in clean conscience, “I have so little time.” But, be honest, folks, we all know we DO have time for the things we really want to do. I mean, I have time to read PEOPLE magazine from cover to cover every time I go to Jiffy Lube for an hour. We have time to waste on Facebook and YouTube. Americans of all people have plenty of discretionary time. The deeper question is do I want to spend my discretionary time getting to know God or getting to find out the details of Brad Pitt’s divorce?

At the beginning of 2017, I sincerely told the Lord, “I want to know You.” (This is not the first time I’ve said this, and He knew I really meant it.) In response He said, “Read the book of Ruth. In it you will find Me if you really want Me.” I read the book. I soaked in it. I asked the Holy Spirit to illuminate it. I studied some of it, and I meditated on it. I gave it two full weeks of my discretionary time. In response, the bread of His word was broken for me, and I tasted Him and found Him. My heart said,  “Wow! You are good, Lord! You ‘get’ me. You know the hidden secrets of my heart, and I am not afraid for You to see them.” Preceding this was six years of inner healing (very hard work and a willingness to be vulnerable about my brokenness). In those years I learned that God can be trusted. As I lean towards Him daily, I am finding He surprises me!  In fact,  my 2017 word of the year happens to be “surprise”. My first two surprises for 2017…….God Himself and caramelized onions!!

Deep thoughts on reality.

Words carry spirit. This is a powerful reality I have felt, but couldn’t put words to. My ears have heard “nice” words, while my heart felt the pain of an arrow as these words touched my spirit. Our spirits FEEL the truth even when our conscious minds are oblivious. It was prophesied of Jesus that, “He will not judge by what He sees with His eyes or hears with His ears, but He will judge in righteousness (rightly)….” Jesus discerned with His spirit senses what the truth was about the people He was with and the situations He was in. He walked in reality…..while everyone else around Him walked in illusion. When I read the gospels I see this. In fact, I don’t even think much of what Jesus does and says even makes sense unless viewed through the lens that He was responding to a different reality than those around Him. Hebrews 5:14 says that we can learn to discern the truth as we practice using our spirit’s senses. Perhaps this is the last frontier and the reason I find the spiritual life so exciting….there is always something new to be discovered.

As I have walked through personal suffering in the last few months, I have learned not to fear pain anymore. I’m one of those “sensitive” people who can’t stand a bump in my socks. My spirit is the same way….I try to avoid pain at all costs. But the Lord has taught me during this season that pain is not my enemy. My enemies are futility, hopelessness, darkness, and discouragement. Pain is actually more of a friend than I imagined. Somehow the Enemy always seems to find and exploit the weaknesses in my armor, but here is what I have found….in recognizing I cannot stand, I call out to the One who fights for me, so I can say confidently, “Despair, my old enemy, I may not be able to fight you, but Christ can.”

I had a dream a few nights ago that I stood in a house looking out a large window at a snowy hill. A wolf ran from the top of the hill towards the window and to my surprise he leaped at the window as if to smash through it, and his paws DID come through the seam at the bottom of the window so close to me that I could have reached out and touched them. I recognized that there are spiritual realities that desire to devour what God has accomplished….in my life personally, but more widely, in the kingdom of God. I call upon the Name of the God of Israel! May His enemies fall at His feet. May the powers above and below bow to the Risen One. I say, “Let Light shine in the darkness of this world. Let the Light and Hope of God’s presence displace all despair. Let the weak say, ‘I am strong in the Lord who fights for me!”

 

 

 

 

From a Prison Cell

Encouragement comes from strange places.This week I found deep inspiration from the book “In God’s Underground” by Richard Wurmbrand. I did a little research on Marx, Lenin, and Stalin as I read. Fifty million “unnatural” deaths can be traced back to Stalin (and this does not count wartime casualties. At the time of Stalin’s death, Wurmbrand was in a cell with many other men in Romania. They jumped for joy at the news of Stalin and shouted, “May he burn in hell!”  Wurmbrand, whose only crime was that of being a Christian, said he could not participate in outbursts of hatred towards any man. Then he told this story to his fellow prisoners:

“A man who had lived by exploiting the poor developed a great hatred for the village minister, simply because he was good. When they met in the street, the man spat in the minister’s face; and the minister let him do it thinking, “This is a pleasure for the poor creature.” Once a year, however, the rich man went to church, always on Good Friday. As he heard the story of the Crucifixion, two tears would roll down his fat cheeks. He wiped them away quickly and left before the collection was taken. One Good Friday the minister was found lying in the front of the church transfigured in prayerful ecstasy. The rich man had died that very day. He stood in judgment, and all the devils put upon one side of a balance all his bad deeds. His guardian angel had nothing to put on the opposite side of the scale except the two tears he had shed every year. Yet those tears weighed exactly as much as all the evil deeds together. What could be done? The rich man began to sweat and tremble. But just at that moment God looked away, and the rich man snatched some bad deeds off the scale tipping it in his favor. But God sees, even when He looks away. He turned and said to the rich man sadly, “No one has ever tried to cheat me on the Day of Judgment. And looking around Heaven, He asked, “Who will defend this man?”

The angels were silent. “Come,” said God, “this is not the People’s Republic of Romania, we can’t condemn someone without a defense.” Even the rich man’s guardian angel shrank from the task. “But,” he said, “there is a minister in his town of so saintly a character that he might be willing to speak for him.” So the minister was brought to Heaven, while his body remained below. The rich man thought his last chance had gone when he saw the man he had often humiliated, but the pastor accepted the job at once.

“Heavenly Father,” he began, “which of us is better, you or I? If I’m better than You, come down from Your throne and let me take Your place, for every day I allowed this man the joy of spitting on me, and was free of bitterness. Certainly if I can forgive him, so can You.” My second plea is that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of man, although in our unhappy country we may now be punished many times for the same crime, it is not right that he should suffer again for his sins, when they have been punished already in Jesus’s body. And thirdly, God, a practical question–what do You lose if He goes to Heaven? If paradise is too small, You can enlarge it.”

The minister’s words were so pleasing to God that He called to the rich man at once, “Go now to Heaven!” Then God turned to the minister, deeply moved and said, “Stay here awhile and talk with me.”

“Thank you,” said the pastor, “but I must go and warn people not to sin and do my duty as a minister, but I will also tell them that You have done Your duty, that Your love is great, and that You forgive even the greatest of sinners.”

When Wurmbrand had finished telling this story, the men in the cell were silent, then one spoke up and said, “I have heard many teachings in the cell, but this is the best and the hardest to put into effect.” (God’s Underground, p. 186)

As I read this story I cried when God turned to the minister and said, “Stay here awhile and talk with Me.” Oh, what it would be like to have God say that to me! To be God’s friend! Abraham was called God’s friend, and I wonder if it was because God knew that this lone man would cry out for mercy upon a city that deserved judgement….something that reflected God’s own heart’s desire.

I will leave you with this, a verse about God’s friendship from Psalm 25:14, “The Lord confides in those who fear Him, and He makes His covenant know to them.”

“It’s not enough”….song & lyrics by Dustin Kensrue.   “Though all the wealth of men was mine to squander
And towers of ivory rose beneath my feet
Were palaces of pleasure mine to wander
The sum of it would leave me incomplete

Though every soul would hold my name in honor
And truest love was always by my side
My praises sung by grateful sons and daughters
My soul would never still be satisfied

It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could walk the world forever
Till my shoes were filled with blood
It’s not enough, it’s not enough

Though I could live for all to lift them higher
Or spend the centuries seeking light within
Though I indulged my every dark desire
Exhausting every avenue of sin

It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could walk the world forever
Till my shoes were filled with blood
It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could right all wrongs, or ravage
Everything beneath the sun
It’s not enough, it’s not enough

To make me whole
It’s not enough, it never was
Awake my soul
It’s not enough, it never was

It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could walk the world forever
Till my shoes were filled with blood
It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could right all wrongs, or ravage
Everything beneath the sun
It’s not enough, it’s not enough
Though all would bow to me
Till I could drink my fill of fear and love
It’s not enough, it’s not enough.”

Waiting.

In the silence the soul begins knowing without words. Words become fumbling, awkward things standing in the way of the Beauty and Love reaching out. The silence is not empty, it holds everything. . . it holds God Himself. I am waiting. . .waiting . . . in the silence.

An old journal found.

Someone said, what most writers like about writing, is that they have written.  Not me. The process is a dance and a song and the Spirit of God is alive, speaking and moving my pen, making me cry with the fresh air. When I write, I truly feel His pleasure.  What follows is some poetry I wrote in an old journal. All words are written to my God.

Friend–Take my hand and lead me to the places you love. I want to love them together with you. Laugh with me and paint a sunset on the water. Discover again, beauty, innocence, animals, and children. My hand belongs in yours and I will follow you anywhere, everywhere, forever.

Home– The day I die will be the day I finally go home. At night my soul weeps in longing because I know His arms are waiting for me, and I belong there. I belong in the arms of my God. I will smile at death one day, because he will help me get home.

Lover–My lover is searching for me. He is hungry for me because I desire Him, because his sweetness and passion make me tremble.

King–“Well done my good and faithful servant.” At last my ears receive the words longed for. Fall prostrate. “I am unworthy to serve You master, unworthy to untie Your sandals. I have only done my duty.” Exhausted soldier, sword well used. Glory in my worship master, that will be enough. I have only wanted to come home at last.

Good gifts…flowing down…..from His throne….like drops of dew….on flowers.

 

Valley of Vision

This Puritan prayer deeply touched me this week. “Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory. Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine; let me find Thy light in my darkness, Thy life in my death, Thy joy in my sorrow, Thy grace in my sin, Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.” May these words bless you as you read them…as they sink into your soul.  –Jennie