Already Included #40 – Ezekiel

By Sarah Nyhan

Ezekiel was sent to his own people. He was rejected over and over again. This was not a surprise to God. Ezekiel did not fail just because nobody listened to him and changed their ways. Not even Jesus in human form was enough for many people.

So I can let myself off the hook. Is relationship with God the goal, the end-game? Or is there some other race I think God asks me to win?

What if everyone truly is eternally safe in His heart? What if God cares more for us than I could ever imagine? What if He isn’t disappointed with us? Can I be assured that just as Holy Spirit never leaves me, Holy Spirit is always in endless conversation with them? In ways they can hear.

What if He already tore up the report card I created for Him to sign? What if inviting Him into our grief, sadness, and anger is what it is all about? What if our hearts echo the cries of His heart? What if He sits with us and holds us together when we can’t keep everything together? What if He never expected us to fix these things? What if it all works out on the other side, if not on this side? What if there is something bigger going on?

Tell it to my heart. My heart only wants relief. My heart wants results, Lord! My heart doesn’t understand what You are doing! Why You let this go on so long! Where are You?!

He meets me every time. Satisfying my soul,  often without answering my questions. Even as I put Him on trial. Peace that truly passes understanding. Knowing that I am seen. That I am so clearly heard. And fully loved.

I walked the dog this morning. New house, new neighborhood for both of us. Only a week in. The dog bolted forward ahead of me. I let him go because he was so excited. It wasn’t about being in control this morning. It was about enjoying the walk.

We crossed the street about 30% of the way down. We continued on to the end and then turned around. A neighborhood where almost every house looks the same. No scent on that side of the street.

The poor little dog went down almost every path to the front door of every house for three to four blocks. It’s like his little mind was thinking, “Maybe this one!” And he would run up the path and stare at the front door and have this confused, thoughtful look on his face. Then I would walk ahead and he’d run to catch up, pass me again, and run down the path to the next door.

He didn’t trust me. He thought it was his job to get us home. I wasn’t mad at him. I was just heartbroken seeing him try to find home over and over again.

Finally he caught his scent from the beginning of the walk and stepped a little more confidently the rest of the way home.

It reminded me of how I don’t trust God. How I bolt ahead of Him offering solution after solution. And He knows where I need to be. He isn’t worried at all. I want the answers without the intimacy. I want to be in control because I don’t trust His heart for me.

I don’t think He has me on a leash to restrict me; just to protect me from what I don’t even know I need protecting from. Can I learn to relax and enjoy the journey?

Enoch walked with God. I want to be like that. Not tiring myself out by dragging God along every path I think I need to go down. Instead trusting He will be with me always. But checking in, looking to Him more.

Relationship. Real relationship. Not just reading books, listening to sermons, studying the Bible, listening to worship music. But a real relationship. That is going to be messy. There will not be any formula I can fall back on. But it thankfully doesn’t depend on me either.

Already Included #39 – Redeemable

By Sarah Nyhan

A person I once considered one of my best friends told me in all seriousness one day: “Your most redeeming quality is that you take abuse.”

Well, a person can only take so much. As I learned better, I reacted by being hyper-sensitive to any hint of forthcoming pain in all its forms. I developed a different reputation as a runner!

I was so frustrated with the naysayers. So easy for them to throw stones from the sidelines. They weren’t in my shoes. Wasn’t I doing the intelligent thing by avoiding being a target? Just give me time and I’d figure out who was safe.

That approach left me completely isolated. With a lot of time to see my own faults and failures.

Now I am learning that not all pain is destructive; that I don’t have to immediately run from any and all pain. That beneficial growth can also feel scary and painful.

My real estate background helps me understand this. There is a big beautiful property with an unfinished, abandoned mansion. The new owners seem to examine every nail, every face of every board. Ripping off walls, tearing down, pulling out, etc. Metaphorically so much pain involved. But not for destruction. They are only doing what is best to build the house back up even better.

So also with me. I pray to be a better person, but then I get lost in the pain when the pruning proceeds. It feels like I am dying versus being healed. I lose sight of the point of it all.

My business classes further educate me in one of the least threatening ways possible. I can hear what I need to hear there because my mind isn’t on high alert as business can sometimes be thought of as more transactional than relational.

But I love the genius of God. Because business is all about seeing opportunity and creating value as responses to perceived needs. Rarely, if ever, is running away a suggested solution for the typical pains of business challenges.

So instead I am taught things I’d expect to hear more from a pulpit than a professor: things like valuing everyone equally, giving people the benefit of the doubt, adopting a learner-mindset versus a judger-mindset, being honest and open, being caring and credible, etc. I am challenged to step out of my fortress of ego and pride (that victimhood helped build) in order to understand situations from everyone’s perspective.

This really helps me start to calm down and see that most of the time people are probably not being hurtful on purpose. And even if they are, it’s probably because it’s their way of responding to feeling like there isn’t any other way to escape the feelings that also feel so threatening to them.

So then, will I respond in like-kind? Fear response to fear response? Or will I take on the challenges growth is bringing to the table? Will I quit being emotionally lazy? Will I really lean into the love available to me? And respond from a place of maturity? Not better. Just enlightened differently in that moment. By the grace of God alone. Truly.

What if there is something in it for me? What if it doesn’t have to be forced? What if my strength of will is not needed? What if I can relax and bring all my resistance to God and He’ll love all the hell out of me?

What if for now running to Him is enough? What if there will be a new moment one day when I feel filled up enough with His love that the kid in me will feel safe enough to share the excess organically? Where I feel secure enough to creatively seek solutions that improve relationships versus only running away.

No condemnation. God leads us in all forgiveness. Of ourselves for all these years. Of others as our eyes are opened to see them through Love’s Truth. Never excusing or condoning hurtful actions. Simply understanding. Seeing us in each other.

God even invites us to be honest about our anger towards Him.

Later I say to God, “Look at me – I am the least. There is no way I can do these things. I am Gideon, God – who am I?”

And He says, “Exactly. Let Me love you –  just run to Me when you are scared. That is step one. I’ve got the rest. I’ve got rest. I AM your rest.”

So much more. But that’s the food for thought right now.

Already Included #38 – Wrong

By Sarah Nyhan

One of the biggest changes in my life over the past almost three years is that I now experience the freedom to be wrong. Like the prodigal. Or the prodigal’s brother. Or like when Peter grossly abandoned and denied Jesus – his great friend, his God – in the darkest hour. Afterwards Jesus pursued Peter and made him some fish tacos. 😉 Not the other way around.

Peter was given the freedom to be wrong. Abraham was given the freedom to be wrong. But here is the point – did their choices serve them and theirs well? Do my choices serve me and mine well?

Yes, I can be wrong and assured that I am loved exactly the same. Yes, I can be wrong and God will not abandon me. But will my choices even get me where I ultimately want to be?

Forget rules. Rules are somewhat of a base level of operating to me now. Rules are for when I’m not experienced enough to understand and comprehend the consequences of my actions.

For example, a baby or a toddler needs rules because they don’t have the context to understand how vulnerable and powerful they are in the world. That yes, mom and dad are always watching out for them now – but that is not always the environment outside and away from their parents. So you give your toddler a rule to never touch the stove because sometimes it could be hot and there may not always be someone there to pull them away from the stove in the nick of time.

You don’t tell your toddler not to touch the stove because of your ego – or hopefully not. Some people are like that. Some people make rules just to have control and power over others. But as they are properly designed, rules are a protector and a teacher. Not an end unto themselves.

This is TOTALLY new thinking for me. Overwhelming at first. Like when a kid graduates and goes out into the world for the first time all on their own. The freedom to make every decision they want.

Yes, I can do everything and anything I want to do. Technically. But what am I here for? What am I doing on this beautiful planet spinning out here in space? What is the point? How do I place myself in the middle of all the people I have the privilege of doing life with? If rules are the only thing keeping me from hurting myself and others then I have way bigger fish to fry than debating theological nuances.

Or maybe not. Maybe I do need to go back to square one. Because my view of who God is and how God sees me and others is at least the unconscious basis for how I treat myself and how I treat others.

Am I faithful to my spouse just because of rules? That’s ok, but that is base thinking for the immature (without any negative connotation or condemnation). I think eventually the idea is that I graduate from base rule-thinking to understanding how important I am in this world and to the people I have relationships with.

There will never be another person who can be me to the people I do life with. My spouse may be able to find a different spouse who treats them better, but they chose me first – and no one can ever again fill that first role that I filled. No one can ever be my child’s biological parent again. Or first adopted parent again. No one can ever be my brother’s oldest fully biological sister again. Or fill in the blank.

No one can ever replace me in the places I am in people’s lives. My mark on this world, myself, and others cannot be erased. Yes, they will encounter other people, other people who will love them better that I have tried to love them. But that will not erase the impact my presence, absence, and choices has on them.

And not only that. But this minute, this hour, this day is not a rehearsal. I will not get to do it over again. I can do differently, but I cannot do over.

So is this the life I want? Am I being true to even myself? If all else goes away, am I even the person I want to be? Do my choices reflect that? Am I unhappy because I don’t live up to my own values and don’t even respect myself?

Rules paint me into a corner. But higher thinking gives me my life back. With all its freedoms and responsibilities. I am no longer a child. I can no longer blame God, religion, or rules for checking out and disconnecting from my heart, mind, and spirit. Those I do life with will only buy that for so long. God will always love me and others may also. But that doesn’t mean people will always tolerate my choices.

Perfect love drives out fear. Today is a new day. I can’t do over, but I can do differently. I may not be able to repair what is broken, but I can at least stop being destructive. I can make different choices.

As I experience God’s love, I can accept myself and life as is and move forward accordingly. I can grieve without feeling despondent or hopeless. The sun rises again. This moment is a blank canvas.

God knows who I am. He meets me right here, right now. He is always for me, always for us. Satisfied with nothing less than our complete healing. Until all that is not of love’s kind has been replaced with all the good that is freely ours to experience all the time.

Already Included #37 – Monsters

By Sarah Nyhan

This is oversimplified food for thought. Not a finished thesis.

What if people don’t come clean because they fear being shamed?

What if I saw people as sick versus bad?

What kind of love is it when despite everything I don’t want to give up on someone? Does that come from a good place? Is there some gem in there that I can work with while not throwing the baby out with the bathwater? That I can take another look at from a different viewpoint?

What if instead of feeling shame, what if I instead pulled all my resources together in an intensive effort to instead come alongside them in real relationship and genuinely wanted and worked for their healing?

What is it in me that so badly wants my twisted version of justice? So short-sighted. Very limited success in terms of much of anything being set right. Eventually everyone at one point or another behaves as the “bad guy”. We’re messy humans like that. So I seclude myself on my island of “safety”, and profound loneliness. Turns out there is no life once I have sanitized my life of all those who have hurt me. None. There is only a glaring amount of time and space to see my own faults. I also am not a good person. I am tired of the security of my own company.

What is this life I have chosen for myself? That I have created?

What do I need to learn about myself from those who have hurt me – even the most? Where am I in them?

What was it they were really looking for when they chose to hurt me? When and how did they lose the hope that under ideal circumstances would have encouraged them to consider options that would not have involved hurting me? What if my fears and pain have painted a picture of a monster that is instead a lost child? Crying out in adult-sized ways.

That would require God-sized love in me, as me. No formula.

Already Included #36 – Clean

By Sarah Nyhan

I am quite impatient with the process. So short-sighted. Jumping at the bit. Excited. Frustrated by this season. It feels so long. And yet I feel God is continually encouraging me almost on a daily basis that I am not late, I am not behind.

I think I understand some of what Paul was going through those immediate years after he was converted. I have experienced elation, fear, grief, etc. I was so happy to experience love and freedom, but I was not prepared for my world to be turned upside down.

I am constantly surprised by new levels of healing that God leads me through. Things I can’t ever remember living without. Things I thought were normal. Thank God, chains being broken. But I sit stunned. Relieved but in awe.

I was sufficiently surprised by my perfectionism being loosened. It was a heavy burden I didn’t know I could live without. But this week I have been amazed with deeper insight. It was revealed to me that the perfectionism is a drive to prove to myself and others that I am “good”. If I could be right then that would prove that I was not a bad person.

In addition, I am somewhat known for being a bit obsessed with order and especially cleanliness. My own, others, and my physical environment. I thought it was just the way things were. Now I have even been healed of the drive behind those heavy burdens as they were. I realize now that it is completely motivated by wanting to prove that I am not a dirty person. That I am clean – and therefore not a bad person.

I have a few guesses where these drives came from. But the chains are being broken by knowing and understanding on deeper and deeper levels that I am already INcluded. That is to say that I was loved before I was born. That others misrepresented God to me. That He already knew how my life would go and He never sees me other than His beloved child. He wants me to understand how loved I am. That His love for me is not swayed in any way. That He is only and ever for me. That He wants so much for me to see myself as completely free from the opinions of others and even the opinions of myself. None of those define me. He cleans me up. Nothing that anyone can ever do to me will change my importance to Him. He only wants me to know how free I am to receive all He has for me whenever I want it. Over and over again. I cannot exhaust Him or His love.

It completely changes my priorities. I suddenly have more time than ever before. Time spent actually living and enjoying even rest. Being able to sit back and let God surprise me. Versus clutching onto each and every opportunity to settle for the first thing that will ease my anxieties and give me a (false) sense of control.

This is all so new. I am just stunned over and over again. I feel like someone who was dead for forty years and finally rose back to life. I feel like a new person dropped into some society after living isolated for forty years. Everything is brand new. Life can be loud for sometime. Quite overwhelming. Things you never noticed before. Textures, tastes. The senses are assaulted when coming back to life after having been almost completely deadened by religion.

I suggest taking the long way home. In my experience, God will not allow the process to be rushed. I now see how necessary the time of isolation can be. Time to have these things settled in. Time to grow up a bit before the onslaught of critics. Like a newborn baby. Hidden away for a time in safety. In order to get stronger. It feels like loneliness, but let’s not forget Who has worked so mightly in our past. These are not trivial matters. This is everything. For us and for the world.

This is not the end of the story. Yet. Either way we look at it, this is only the begINning.

Already Included #34 – Home Now

By Sarah Nyhan

I signed up for a social media site recently and every time I logged in it would ask me to specify my hometown. I literally couldn’t. As a child, I never lived in any city for more than four years. Many times, only for two years. Sometimes I even attended more than one school in a school year.

Since this is how I grew up, I didn’t know any different really. I was mostly around other people who were living the same way. The first time I can remember feeling out of place was when I was moved to a town where the majority of people had lived there their whole life. I wasn’t aware enough to articulate it at the time, but I instantly felt lost and unhappy. But God – in His absolutely amazing greatness – gave me a friend who was also new to town. That made all the difference.

I heard of people who identify as third-culture kids. Initially I thought it only applied to missionaries or something. And categorizations being as they are, the label is not an end in itself. But the means it provides is much like a buoy for navigating certain times. I find it helpful that way.

For me the conepts related to identifying with third-culture kids, helps me start to unravel why this “already included” message has me flat on my back versus up and running. I realize now that unconsciously I adopted a way of surviving that consisted of evaluating every new situation to find out what was required of me by others. Then I did my best to acclimate accordingly. For four decades! I operated as if the only option was to have an external locus of control.

In addition, it wasn’t just being living the life of never being with the same groups, but also certain relationships required surviving by supressing myself and operating defensively. I.e. accommodating others.

Then we get to the spiritual side of the house. Never in all my time would I have considered anything other than making decisions based off what the Bible said. Even if I went against what the Bible said, I still used it as my point of reference for decision making.

None of this really worked for me. But it was all I consciously knew. After many decades this would look like agonizing for weeks on end trying to figure out if God wanted me to go into real estate or teaching. This would look even as sitting at a restaurant and asking myself what the other person would want me to order before I made my decision. I could go on and on. Almost every decision was predicated by evaluating what others expected from me.

This way of being kept me alive for a long time. It served many purposes. There is no condemnation. But I absolutely was completely blind-sided by how this “already included” way started and continues to rip away that old way of making decisions and thankfully replace it with a new way of operating.

But this has taken at least two years. I say that all to say hang on for the ride and forgive yourself if you can relate and feel lost. As much as this already included way has freed me, I have been as an Israelite seeking something of old to grab onto for some sense or normalcy. Even if what I am reaching back for was what was killing me.

I love how God doesn’t give into me as I have been absolutely blind in my determined reaching. It has felt like a dying or falling even as this already included way tethered me eternally. I felt the peace IN me even as my mind was reeling.

I didn’t understand why every time I asked God for direction I felt like He replied, “What do you want?” Nobody ever asked me what I wanted. Nobody in the pulpit ever asked what I wanted. All I ever heard or felt was “do this” or “do that”. What do I want? I haven’t really thought about that in forever.

I was mad at God. I felt abandoned. So I looked for expectations from others to pick up. But His wrath FOR me blocked every turn in that direction. It took a long, long time – years – to figure out He wasn’t blessing anymore what I used to survive certain times before. I wanted structure for the sake of structure. In a way, my chains felt like the only home I ever knew. So much that freedom felt more terrifying than the underlying misery I always knew.

“I know the plans I have for you.” To give me a real future and a real hope.

What do I want?

The most terrifying and beautiful question for me right now. This means I have power I never knew I had. This means the entire universe is open to me. Unlimited possibilities. This means I cannot blame others once I know better. This means I will have regrets. But this also means love exists. In and for me.

Overwhelming. When I can even switch my mind to this mentality. Right now I only really consciously switch out of my old way to this new internal locus of control maybe once every few weeks. I am confident God will keep drawing me until I get it. For now even accepting the idea, the freedom is monumental!

I feel for my friends in the old faith. I absolutely know they mean well. I did when I was there. I think of the things people would say to me. I know understand why it sounds cultish. And yet God is always with us. Leading us to the next step we can handle.

As much as I want to break them free, I can’t. There are so many things we need to learn along the way. I always remember what John MacMurray taught; in my own words as it applies to me and my situation: God doesn’t just want me free – He always wants me to want to be free.

This freedom, this asking what I want, is surprisingly not leading to narcissism or unbridled selfishness. I see Christ IN me, of no doing of my own, as love is given space to grow when this already included way takes law out of the equation. I have been so pleased to watch this. It is completely new to me. To ask myself what I want and I feel depths of compassion for myself others that was always there but never allowed to flow free. The way of my being is starting to match the essence of my being. As a child of God. Not a cog in some machine. Well-meaning or otherwise.

I mourn, I grieve all that could have been before. But I try to give myself grace. Even in allowing myself this time to grieve. Not holding myself to some impossible standard. Just honoring God, myself, and others as best as I can in the next step, in this present moment.

All a fantastic journey even as I don’t understand what is happening or where to go most of the time. Never felt so incompetent and yet so loved and safe. We have a good, good Father.

Living loved. All the colors. The world comes alive! What do I want?