The Prodigal God.

I have just recently finished reading “The Prodigal God” by Timothy Keller. I thought I’d share my thoughts with you as well as hear your feedback if you have read it. If you have not read it- I greatly encourage you to do so. The basic jest of the book is the parable of the Prodigal Sons and how most people tend to focus on the rebellious, scandalous younger brother and his sinful ways, but do not focus on the self-righteous, prideful older brother and his sinful ways. I find this book extremely applicable to those like myself who have been raised in church from the time they were born. Often I go through my list of- I’ve never done drugs, I didn’t have sex before marriage (ha, and even after marriage up until a week ago. Sorry-sad attempt for humor ;)), etc. etc. and check that all is well and God must be pleased with my life because I am not the younger brother. In reality- I am just as sinful as the older brother who equates his life of self-righteousness to being right with God- when in the end he is just as sinful as the younger brother. I feel often times the church, whether by innocence or intentional, teaches us that we must ‘complete these four steps’ of being obedient to God- then God will accept us and we will live a happy life. And whether innocently or intentionally, I feel this has been my most recent mindset. And that is not at all what the Gospel is about.

If you are new to this particle parable in the Bible, or need a refresher on the parable, here is the scripture below :

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable:
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Below I list some specific quotes from the book and my thoughts and perception regarding the quotes.

“The targets of this story are not ‘wayward sinners’ but religious people who do everything the Bible requires. Jesus is pleading not so much with immoral outsiders as with moral insiders. He wants to show them their blindness, narrowness, and self-righteousness, and how these things are destroying both their own souls and the lives of the people around them.” (pg. 12)

-This portion majorly socked me in the gut. I am such a ‘rule follower’ and until recently was extremely blinded by my own narrowness and judgmental attitude that can come across to people without me really even noticing. It had become part of my nature and as this quote says- that can destroy the people around me and myself.

“Why doesn’t the elder brother go in? He himself gives the reason: ‘Because I’ve never disobeyed you.(vs. 28)’ The elder brother is not losing the father’s love in spite of his goodness, but because of it. It is not his sins that create the barrier between him and his father, it’s the pride he has in his moral records; it’s not his wrongdoing but his righteousness that is keeping him from sharing in the feast of the father.” (pg. 40-41)

-This portion blew.me.away. I am so disgustingly full of self-righteousness. I am the typical ‘goody-two shoes’ and have always been proud of that fact- with sinful thoughts flooding through my head (e.g. At least I didn’t get pregnant in high school, I never have gotten plastered, I always go to church every Sunday, Sunday night, and Wednesday night-and anytime the doors are open, etc.) and that makes me just as sinful as the non-admitting alcoholic or the adulterous woman.

“If, like the elder brother, you believe that God ought to bless you and help you because you have worked so hard to obey him and be a good example, then Jesus may be your helper, your example, even your inspiration, but he is not your Savior. You are serving your own Savior.” (pg. 44) and along the same lines “Elder brothers obey God to get things. They don’t obey God to get God himself- in order to resemble him, love him, know him, and delight him. So religious and moral people can be avoiding Jesus as Savior and Lord as much as the younger brothers who say they don’t believe in God and define right and wrong for themselves.” (pg.49)

-Yup. So guilty of this. I have reasoned in my head for as long as I can remember- “If I read my bible daily, pray several times a day, obey my parents, not gossip, etc. God will be happy with me and I will live a good life”. And it’s not that I thought I’d live a perfect life- but I thought if I prayed enough dark days of anxiety and vaginismus would go away. If I read my Bible enough-the temptations of dating back in the day would flee from me immediately. If I obey my parents to a T I will live a long and prosperous life with no pain and little trials. This way of thinking and living is self-serving and it is showing that I depend on myself for my ‘life to be good’.

“But Jesus says: ‘The humble are in and the proud are out’ (see Luke 18:14). The people who confess they aren’t particulary good or open-minded are moving toward God, because the prerequisite for receiving the grace of God is to know you need it. The people who think they are just fine, thank you, are moving away from God. ‘The Lord…cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud’ (Psalm 138:6 NLT)”. (pg.52)

-Enough said.

“If a group believes God favors them because of their particulary true doctrine, ways of worship, and ethical behavior, their attitude toward those without these things can be hostile” (pg.61).

-Again, enough said.

“People who are no longer sure that God loves and accepts them in Jesus, apart from their present spiritual achievements, are subconsciously radically insecure persons….Their insecurity shows itself in pride, a fierce, defensive assertion of their own righteousness, and defensive criticism to others.” (pg.62)

-I think I mentioned this above that I struggle with being judgmental and critical. And I also feel that I am a rather insecure person. I didn’t connect the two until reading this book.

“Ultimately, elder brothers live good lives out of fear, not out of joy and love” (pg.66).

-Reminds me of 1 Timothy 1:7 “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

“A sign of the elder-brother spirit is a lack of assurance of the father’s love. You simply aren’t sure God loves and delights in you. What are the signs of this lack of assurance? We have already mentioned one sign: Every time something goes wrong in your life or a prayer goes unanswered, you wonder if it’s because you aren’t living right in this or that area. Another sign is that criticism from others doesn’t just hurt your feelings, it devastates you. This is because your sense of God’s love is abstract and has little real power in your life, and you need the approval of others to bolster your sense of value. You will also feel irresolvable guilt. When you do something you know is wrong, your conscience torments you for a long time, even after you repent. Since you can’t be sure you’ve repented deeply enough, you beat yourself up over what you did.” (pg.72)

-Can I openly say I have struggled with all three of these significantly in my life at some point or the other? Especially the last one. I remember a particular summer where I was ridden with severe guilt and doubt. I confessed every sin in the book I could think of. I prayed and prayed and prayed for those feelings and thoughts to go away. I read my bible constantly. Looking back, I think God wanted me to quit trying. He wanted me to simply accept His love and grace and quit trying to ‘earn’ my salvation or His acceptance.

“The elder brother’s problem is his self-righteousness, the way he uses his moral record to put God and others in his debt to control them and get them to do what he wants…The main barrier between Pharisees and God is ‘not their sins, but their damnable good works.’” (pg 86-87).

-Yikes. But true.

“Our future is not ethereal, impersonal form of consciousness. We will not float through the air, but rather will eat, embrace, sing, laugh and dance in the kingdom of God, in degrees of power, glory, and joy that we can’t at present imagine” (pg.117).

-I have crazy views of heaven. When I think of heaven, my minds picture is a huge flat glass like floor and everything is gold and eye-hurting bright and we just sit and sing all day long. Everything is stoic and solid. Everyone is all formal- no laughing- just going around shaking hands with everyone. Funny. My thoughts of heaven are very reflective of ‘older brother thoughts’- everything is picture perfect, hardened, and everyone is putting on a fake face. I loved this quote as it shatters that picture in my mind and instead I picture lush green fields and majestic waterfalls with the most delicious looking fruit gardens. Everyone is laughing and dancing and shouting for joy. I can’t wait.

“Younger brothers are too selfish and elder brothers are too self-righteous to care for the poor” (pg. 126)

-Which one are you? I tend to be either, or both.

“Religion operates on the principle of ‘I obey- therefore I am accepted by God.’ The basic operating principle of the gospel is ‘I am accepted by God through the work of Jesus Christ- therefore I obey’”. (pg. 128)

-Love this.

“Human approval, professional success, power and influence, family and clan identity- all of these things serve as our hearts, ‘functional trust’ rather than what Christ has done, and as a result we continue to be driven to a great degree by fear, anger, and a lack of self-control” (pg.129)

-Another, enough said.

And a quote to sum it up “ ‘Wait’ I have heard people object, ‘You mean that in order to grow in Christ, you keep telling yourself how graciously loved and accepted you are? That doesn’t seem to be the best way to make progress. Maybe the motivation of religion was negative, but at least it was effective! You knew you had to obey God because if you didn’t, he wouldn’t answer your prayers or take you to heaven. But if you remove this fear and talk so much about free grace and unmerited acceptance- what incentive will you have to live a good life? It seems like this gospel way of living won’t produce people who are as faithful and diligent to obey God’s will without question’. But if, when you have lost all fear of punishment you also have lost incentive to live an obedient life, then what was your motivation in the first place? It could only have been fear. What other incentive is there? Awed, grateful love.” (pg. 134-135)

Oh- and why is the book called The Prodigal God? According to the Merriam-Websters dictionary-prodigal means recklessly extravagant, having spent everything (Intro). Isn’t that the perfect description of Jesus? He is recklessly extravagant with His love and acceptance and he spent everything- even His life- for us.

Sorry for the length- but bravo if you read it all. Please comment with your thoughts, criticisms, questions, etc.

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Goodbye New York.

I can’t believe we have already been here for two weeks- and what an incredible two week it has been. God has answered so many prayers and we give Him all the glory!

“Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion.” (Psalms 103:1-4).

We are super sad to be leaving tomorrow. We have grown to love our doctors- Dr. Ross and Dr. Ditza- and we will miss them greatly. I can honestly say I have NEVER had doctors come even close to these ladies concerning their expertise, bedside manor, tour guiding skills (haha), kindness and generosity. They will forever be a part of the story of our lives and we praise God for leading us to them.

So thankful for my husband who has stuck out these past two rough years. He has truly shown the love of Christ- selfless, unconditional and a true servant. I know that there will always be difficult trials to come- but I praise God for blessing me with such a husband to go through these trials with.

Our last session is at 9 tomorrow morning- then we should be on the road by 10 to head home. I have mixed feelings about coming home- this really has been like a vacation for us and I have enjoyed the extra rest and time off of work and away from our routine life- but at the same time, I am a routine person and I am ready to get back in the swing of things. Ready to move forward- not forgetting Vaginismus- but not letting it dictate who I am but allowing God to use it through us and for Him to continue to lead us to do what He wants us to do.

Week Two!

What a fabulous weekend we had! Just what the doctor ordered 😉 Laura and Daniel came in about midnight on Friday evening and we stayed up for a little bit catching up with each other. We then slept in on Saturday, ate a good breakfast and headed out into the city. It was a flippin’ 100+ degrees in the city so we packed a backpack full of frozen water bottles and headed on our way. We took the train into the city- then a subway and went to central park. I did not realize how HUGE it is and we only saw a small portion of it. We also saw the Plaza hotel, FAO Swartz, Ferrari store (for the boys, Laura and I just wanted some A.C.!), Grand Central Station, Time Square, etc. We also went on a circle line boat which is a two hour tour of part of Manhattan. It was relaxing, much cooler and we could see the sights without having to walk in the heat 🙂

We then headed back to Long Island and ate at this AMAZING pizza place-best pizza I have ever eaten (sorry Pyramid Pizza-but you are a close second!) and later watched a movie at the hotel and conked out from all the heat and walking. Sunday morning we swam a little bit in the hotel pool then our friends headed on their way. SO thankful for them and that they came up to visit us. It was exactly what Bennett and I needed and we are blessed to have them as friends.

Week two of treatment started yesterday and it is going much better then week one. I can not believe how quickly women can progress in this two week program. Bennett and I did have a freak out moment Saturday evening when the homework was particularly difficult for me and we wondered if we would be the couple that it wouldn’t work for. But Monday rolled around and I could tell people were praying and Monday was a GREAT day! So thankful for everyones prayers and support- and for our wonderful doctors- Dr. Ditza and Dr. Ross. They are amazing and I am so glad the Lord lead us to them!

We are about to head out to our first session of the day- then Bennett is going into the city again by himself to explore 🙂 Pray for his safety 🙂

“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing”

The above quote is by Helen Keller that was texted to me by a friend today- and I can say this past week has sure been some adventure. Day four of treatment is complete and I cannot believe how far I have come (not to brag on myself–but it’s pretty exciting!). These doctors for sure know what they are doing, they are SO loving and caring and I truly will have a difficult time leaving them next week–but I am not going to think about that as that is a full week away and I am looking forward to this weekend!

Our friends Laura and Daniel B. are coming up to visit us. They will be in tomorrow evening and will spend all day Saturday with us exploring the city and then leave mid morning on Sunday. I am SO thankful for them and it means alot that they are coming up! I am for sure ready for a break from treatment and to have some time with some great friends.

Today’s treatment went well. Emotionally it has been trying- but physically today was probably the easiest day thus far. Bennett took the day to explore the city while I was in treatment so he could plan out our site seeing day on Saturday. I enjoyed some down time and did laundry, watched some tv, etc. I also met a wonderful woman at dinner who I found out is also a believer. She is from Scotland and is here with her family so her 14 year old autistic son could receive some medical treatment. I didn’t share a whole lot about my issue- but enough for her to get the jist and she shared that she had fertility issues and how God has blessed her with four children. She had SUCH a positive outlook on life- even though one of her kids is struggling with his own condition. She told me that she prayed for 8 years that God would heal her son- and then started to pray differently. We do serve a God that CAN do miracles- but she stated that sometimes that isn’t His plan and He has a different purpose. She said she has met so many people through her son and God has used it greatly. It was encouraging to me as there have been many times I have been angry at God and wishing I never had to deal with this condition- but God has a reason. He has taught me SO much already and for that I am grateful and I know He is going to use this to bring glory to Him.

I hope this post all makes sense–it is late and I am pretty wiped out but it helps me to post some and process the day. I appreciate your prayers–I have never in my life felt so loved and supported and prayed over. We both have been extrememly humbled and challenged to look at our own lives in how we can do better to support our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Day 4 of NY, Day 2 of Treatment.

A quick update as it is late and I am quite tired but wanted to briefly fill you all in on our first two days of treatment.

I first want to say that I LOVE the doctors that are working with us. They could not be any better! They have been super helpful by providing us with coupons, directions to wherever we want to go, and discounted broadway tickets (which we are hoping to go see a show sometime while we are here). Plus they give us their contact information so we can call them whenever we need them- and not just for medical reasons- even for if we just need a good idea what to eat for dinner. 🙂

Yesterdays two sessions were mainly ‘talk sessions’. Talked about our jobs, our medical history, mental health history, our ‘vaginismus story’ and a lot of just getting to know one another. The doctors do a have a great balance of maintaining a professional atmosphere but also a relaxed atmosphere. You can tell they have a passion for helping women/couples with this problem and it clearly shows.

Today’s two sessions were a bit more trying as it was my first day of actual treatment. And just because I know Dr. Ross sometimes reads my blog- there were some very intense ‘training sensations’ (a.k.a. PAIN!-ha) but I was able to do whatever they asked and I am happy about that–but to be frank- it was a physically and emotionally difficult two sessions. Bennett and I ended the evening going to a beautiful beach and that was wonderful and a great way to end the day! The sand is so white and they have these beautiful stones that I never have seen on a beach before so we collected quite a few of those and just took a long walk.

God has been so good to us and I really feel He is teaching me a lot these past four days while I have been here. There is a lot of ‘letting go’ I need to do and I need to simply accept God’s unconditional love for and find FREEDOM in that! I love that word-freedom! I often allow myself to stay in bondage- instead of dealing with the issues up front, hiding them from God, etc. But the bottom line is that the Lord has a jealous love for me, an unconditional, pursuing, passionate love for me and He wants to set me free. There is nothing I can do that can set myself free or earn His love- I must simply surrender to Him and allow Him to do the work in me.

Day 2!

What a day! We woke up around 8:30 and had a fantastic breakfast! I have never had a complimentary hotel breakfast like this one. There were eggs, home fries, sausage, bagels, toast, cereal, waffle machines, pancakes, fruit, juice, soda, muffins, etc. etc. Unfortunately I was a tad bit anxious to eat much but I am hoping after a good nights rest I will be able to enjoy it! That’s a small prayer request–I am having some trouble sleeping. I don’t actively feel ‘anxious’ but I have been restless, stomach pains, etc. So apparently my body knows what is coming these next two weeks and isn’t happy about it…but it’s all in God’s hands. That has been a passage that has been in my mind today- that the Lord holds me in His right hand.

Anyways- we ate some breakfast then we had to switch hotel rooms as we booked a night earlier at the last minute. We unpacked and then head to New York City. The doctor’s from the treatment center have been super helpful as I spoke with one last night who gave us great directions to the nearest train station. We had such a time trying to figure out how to buy a train ticket, shocked at the price and then trying to find the right train as we pull out this huge map to try to figure it out. We were screaming tourist. We did well and made it Penn Station. We spent a few hours in the city- but I am not a huge ‘crowd’ person to begin with and the city was ALOT to take in on little sleep and treatment looming ahead- so we only stayed for a few hours and headed back. We stopped that the grocery store to pick up some items we can keep in our room so we don’t have to eat out for every meal. I got my two favorites right now- roasted red pepper humus with original sun chips and buitoni pasta (all of which I was introduced to by my co-worker Lauren- yum!).
After the grocery store we headed back to our hotel. We have never had this much free time as a married couple and we are thoroughly enjoying it! I grabbed a book (the Prodigal God by Tim Keller, summer reading book for Citylight) and sat by the pool. The weather has been wonderful and it was so relaxing. I have read through the first 40 pages or so–I am working on processing it but it is very eye opening. I am sure I will post more about that later.
While I was reading, Bennett was sitting by the pool with his Mac making videos of our trip. He is quite talented in the media category and as much as I really don’t like a camera in my face- I will be grateful for the capture of memories. He also will have TONS of free time sitting in the waiting room of the treatment center while I am being treated so who knows what he will create. 🙂
So our first two days have been good–seeing Jess W., seeing some sights and relaxing. Tomorrow starts our first day of treatment. Our first session is at 10AM and it is just a consultation. I am not sure if we start the actual treatment procedures tomorrow afternoon or Tuesday- but I appreciate your prayers for those!

Safe and Sound, but not sleepy….

…So that means I’ll do some blog posting. 🙂 I SHOULD be sleepy as I barely got any sleep last night. I didn’t even finish packing til about 9:30pm–didn’t actually fall asleep until midnight and woke up continuously until I finally dragged myself out of bed at 6:00 am. We got on the road around 6:45 and headed to Philadelphia to meet up with Jess W. It was SO good to see her- and what a ministry she is doing! She is for sure in the heart of the city and she is one brave woman of God! Haha- I was freaking out about leaving my car unattended and Jess W. had to continue to reassure me that my car would be perfectly fine. 🙂 Jess showed us how to take a subway- as this is a major lesson we will need to learn as that is the main mode of transportation of where we are staying now to get into the city. We went to an awesome diner and Jess and I split a yummy cheesesteak while Bennett downed his own 😉 We walked around for a bit then said goodbye to Jess and headed to our hotel. Everyone at the hotel has been incredibly friendly. We get a discount at this particular hotel since we are patients of the Womens Treatment Center and they even gave me a card with chocolates! They know what a girl wants when she isn’t feeling her best ;). Bennett and I explored the hotel and the little town around us and ate at Panera (Thanks Laura and Daniel for the gift card! :))- then just came back to the hotel to wind down- except I am having quite the difficult time winding down. Bennett is fast asleep- but I drank a soda at dinner which I rarely do and I am feeling the affects of caffeine! Dr. Ross Tabisel- one of the doctors we will be seeing at the Women’s Therapy Center- called to make sure we had arrived safely and has already been extremely helpful with providing directions to the train station so we can site see tomorrow. I have heard so many wonderful things about these doctors from Jessie H., seen these doctors on several television programs, and then to actually speak to them and have them be so helpful has been wonderful and has helped to ease my nerves. God has been so merciful to us!

I thank you all for your prayers- we feel them for sure. We had safe travels with just minimal traffic delays. I took some pictures from Philly today and will try to post them sometime soon. Be sure to keep Jess W. in your prayers- she has three more weeks of ministry left in Philly and God has done great things so far but she needs strength to continue through the next three weeks and to see God continue to do great things in the city of Philadelphia.

NY Bound!

This will be a quick post as I have yet to start packing…and it’s 6:30pm and we are leaving at 7:00am tomorrow morning…but I am almost done with a weeks worth of laundry 🙂

I can’t believe it is already time for our treatment–it has been a whirlwind the last four months–meeting the Hatters, going to Citylight, making the decision to go to the Women’s Therapy Center–but the awesome part is seeing God’s hand in it all. He has been so faithful and I know he will continue to be.

People have been SO generous–I will do a post more about that later but it has overwhelmed Bennett and I. Our church family has been AMAZING, the Hatters, friends, parents (Thanks to mom and dad for an early birthday present of a GPS!!), etc. etc. It has really challenged Bennett and I to give more of ourselves, our time and our money. We have been living so ‘comfortably’ and that has got to change.

Please pray that we can both get a good night’s sleep. Pray for my anxiety level (ha) as I have been somewhat anxious the past few days and need to continually remember to cast my cares upon the Lord. Pray for ministry opportunities while we are there. Pray for safe travel. Pray for God’s healing in all aspects of our personal lives and maritial life-physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Pray that God will use this situation to bring glory to HIM as it has already and I know it will continue.

Also, pray for a fellow blogger friend of mine. I have not met her in person yet but many of you may know her. She JUST now had triplets–as far as facebook says they are doing well but they are tiny so please keep them in your prayers 🙂