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Who Do You Think You Are?

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Last night I was talking with my daughter about the names she is considering for her baby. She had a few picked out, but nothing definite. I encouraged her to look up the meaning of each name before making her decision.

I couldn’t help but think of my own name, how I had never liked it. My middle name was my grandmother’s, a woman I never knew. I am sure I will never understand the meaning it held for my father. But I am grateful that my first name, unlike my sister’s, is at least one that people can pronounce.

Most of us are not given a choice about our name. Our parents choose it for us. But the name we are given is not an accident.

In the Bible, names established relationships, gave insight and understanding or foretold new beginnings. Names not only implied character, they were used to affirm one’s identity and purpose in the world.

A compelling example is the naming of Jesus:

“You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” *

In this one sentence we are told that Jesus is not only the Savior, but that His name was chosen specifically by God.

Names are significant. Words are powerful. The words we use and that others place on us may define us.

A name can be a declaration, a prophecy of who we are, or who we will be.

One early morning not long ago, I was awakened from a sound sleep by jumbled words that would not let me rest:

For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord… Live as children of light…have nothing to do with… darkness… everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible…**

I knew the words, but not why they pursued me.

Longing for sleep, I asked God to show me.  In the quiet I heard,

Tell me what your name is….

I already knew my name and I knew its meaning. My name means Blind. End of story.

Still, I did say my name out loud and then something strange happened. I started telling God all my other names. Stupid… Idiot… Fat… Lazy… Cow… Ugly… Retard… Dog… Crazy

I remembered how when my father was only slightly angry, but not angry enough to hit me he would say, “Who do you think you are, the Queen of Sheba?” But his many names for me sounded much more venomous in Farsi.

I thought they didn’t hurt me anymore. And yet these are the names and words that break our hearts and shape our lives if we believe them.

As dawn broke, I heard God softly say,

Look again. Go deeper. Find the meaning in your real name… the one I chose for you.

 

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So I researched the origin of my name and found it was actually Latin. I went further.  I looked up the meaning of my entire name – first, middle and last name and what they meant as a whole.

I laughed out loud when I discovered the truth. It had been right in front of me all this time. It was the same name my parents had given me, but the meaning was profoundly different.

Suddenly I realized how God sees me, how He intended and imagined me before I ever was.

When God spoke my name, He declared me His daughter and announced His purpose for me in the world. And by revealing His name for me, God gave me a new vision for my life.

You see, God showed me that in Latin, my full name literally means, “Of the heavens or heavenly….a queen or empress… light or of the light.” Heavenly Queen of the Light. Now that’s a name only God can give.

Yes. That’s a very big name, a lot to live up to and a complete contradiction to who I grew up believing I was. My parents, I am sure, did not know the weight and the significance of the name they gave me. They did not plan this. But God did.

No, I am not the Queen of Sheba, but God sees me as royalty. And though I have spent most of my life believing the lies spoken over me, I am no longer blinded by darkness, for God has declared His brilliance over my life.

For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord…

Our hearts may be scarred by the words of others, but we can ask God what His name is for us and who He says we are.  For it is the name God has given us that matters. It is His name that will define who we are and who we will become.

Know this: There is incredible power in the name of the One who has called you.

Look again. Dig deep. Hidden in your heart He has placed a key that has been lying dormant, one that has always been there but you have forgotten. This key is the Truth of Christ, the power in His name and in what He has already done for you. Take hold of it, and you will remember who He has called you to be. For as Christ lives in your heart, so you carry the Truth.

Unlock the door, and step into the life He has waiting for you.

…lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God… Ephesians 4:1

*Matthew 1:21, NIV

**Ephesians 5:8-13

Surrender

"teardrop"   Photo - Sheila Zia

Even in sadness there is beauty…

 

Pain usually has a message for me. Whether it’s a sudden migraine indicating there’s something I’m not seeing clearly, or the physical awareness of a patient’s symptoms that help with a diagnosis, I have learned to listen.

Discernment doesn’t always feel like a spiritual gift, but God has used it to work through me. It’s not something I can turn on or off; it’s not subject to my will. But if I pray and ask God, “Please let me know how to help this person,” this is often how He helps me understand.

I have a strong back that rarely gives me any trouble. But as I showered Sunday morning while getting ready for church, I felt what can only be described as a swift kick to my low back. The intense pain brought me to my knees, literally. And this pain was my own, seemingly for no reason.

Somehow I crawled out of the shower and made it to the floor. As I prayed for relief, I remembered a time once before when this had happened: It was just after I had finished graduate school and my clinical training. It was also right after my sister, her health rapidly deteriorating, had moved in with my elderly parents so they could care for her.

Thinking back, I realized that my pain was in exactly the same place as my sister’s wound – an infected, Stage 4 pressure ulcer exposing bone and flesh. My sister felt no pain. But I did.

At that time I hadn’t yet learned to listen to my body and I didn’t make the connection between her wound and my pain.

And what happened before my back went out this time – almost six years later?

The night before, I had finally received the raw data for my genetic testing, confirming that I carried the same gene, the same DNA coding for the disorder my sister had, right down to its name, variant and location. And in bright red letters next to the long string of numbers was the footnote, “PATHOGENIC.”

In theory, I already knew I was a carrier, but I hadn’t seen it in black and white on a lab report. Perhaps I hoped for different results, even though our father had passed it to his daughters, and we in turn, had passed it to our sons.

Although I wasn’t conscious of it, I was afraid. And the spirit of Fear started whispering that God wasn’t big enough for this.

Some would say it wasn’t just fear, but in fact my very cells remembering. Remembering guilt and anger and regret and helplessness and failure….

Alone, I lay there on the floor unable to move. The voice of Fear said,

 

“See? You could be like this forever…you’ll end up just like your sister – bedridden, paralyzed, decaying…a long, slow death. God can’t promise that you won’t suffer.”

 

And then Fear offered me relief: I would have no more pain, but only if I agreed to stop working on the project God had recently given me. It was a tempting.

I couldn’t move, but I could still sing. And remembering a song with the words, “When I cannot stand, I’ll fall on You,” I sang out loud –

 

 

“Lord, I need You, oh I need You, Every hour I need You, my one defense, my righteousness, Oh God, how I need You… So teach my song to rise to You, When temptation comes my way… When I cannot stand I’ll fall on You, Jesus You’re my hope and stay….” *

 

 

Soon, I had drowned out the voice of Fear.

And there on that cold bathroom floor, I heard the voice of Hope.

 

“Child, you are carrying a past that no longer exists, a burden that doesn’t belong to you anymore. When you became mine, you were released from that debt. All of it – the regrets of your ancestors, the sins of your father, even the genes you carry. None of these are your inheritance. I am your inheritance. Your future is not written in your DNA. Your future, the greatest story your life will ever tell, is the one you allow Me to write for you from now on.”

 

Pain had brought me to my knees, to a narrow place with no room to turn away. And it was there, where a heart surrendered and on its knees before God, finally found rest.

Surrender is a safe place. A surrendered heart is a heart God can heal and a heart He can use. For it is only the tender, yielded heart that will clearly hear the Shepherd’s voice.

God knows what we need to heal – whether it’s physical or emotional or spiritual –  and with His touch, His words, He will defeat our fear or worry or pain. We don’t have to rely on our own strength.

God never intended for us to carry the burdens of the past in our bodies. Sometimes He has to lovingly remind us that He’s got it covered. He already paid the debt. So we can walk in freedom knowing this truth, His truth: That God is taking care of every need in every moment and we can rest in that fact.

I am reminded that life is not defined by our past, nor does the past dictate our future. God is not only the Author, but the Editor of both our experiences and our genetics. So we are not fated to live the story spelled out in our DNA.

Life is not made up of chance and coincidence, it is made up of choices. Who and what we choose to believe and accept, will pave the road we walk on.

Because it is not about what we have inherited, but ultimately, who we will rely on for our inheritance.

There is hope in surrender. For the greatest life we will ever live, will be the life we have surrendered to Christ; the life He now lives through us.

 

 

1) *Song: “Lord I Need You,” by Matt Maher

 

Text and photos – Copyright 2013     Sheila Zia

The Jar of Rest

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I have a lovely, blue jar with a silver flower on its’ top to remind me of Who holds my worry.

Call it anxiety, call me high-strung, but no matter what you call it, I am “a worrier.”

I tend to be anxious. Words and worries run through me like cheesecloth, staying my mind on what I cannot control instead of resting on God’s promises for me.

With utmost care, I write each of my concerns on tiny, colored slips of paper, fold them and place them in the jar.

Now, what is in the Jar of Rest belongs to God and is held in His strong and capable hands, and not in my shaking ones.

Once a worry is in there, that worry is no longer mine to hold.

It belongs to the Jar of Rest.

So often I think I am at rest. I am very good at convincing myself that I’m not stressing about tomorrow, that I am patiently and quietly listening for answers to my prayers and watching for doors to open.

But here’s what I’ve learned:

If I am truly at rest, I am not wringing my hands about what might happen.

If I am at rest I trust that whatever the answer or outcome, it will be the right one.

If I am at rest, I am not wearing myself out madly racing to prepare, making lists of lists and carrying a weight that is not mine to shoulder.

If I am truly at rest, then peace like a warm, flannel wrap holds my soul.

Rest does not rush or worry or collapse under a wall of “What If’s.”

Rest intimately knows a loving God as Protector, Provider and Defender.

Rest waits with hope for the future, refusing to look back at yesterday for guidance.

Rest knows the reality of a tangible stillness that is only available in this moment.

Rest relies on faith, not works, and gives God’s desires for my life the top shelf, far above anything I may think I want or need.

To be at rest, is to know that waiting is not simply pausing the present while counting down time as something to endure – it is preparation for what comes next.

As I prayed today, God showed me that beside my Jar of Rest sits a golden chest the size of a brick. It looks just like the little treasure chest filled with goodies that I earned as a child for behaving at the dentist.

But this treasure chest is full of God’s blessings and gifts. It may look small, but when I reach inside I can feel there is no bottom – there is no end to what the chest can hold! And as I reach into the chest He says to me:

“My precious child, these gifts are all for you. They include My love when you feel alone, My strength when you feel you can’t go on, My joy in all things, and My constant, healing presence – all for your good. My supply is endless and you can take as much as you need or want. Now that you have emptied your hands of worries by putting them in the Jar of Rest, fill your arms instead with Me and my promises.”

Thank you Heavenly Father for your perfect rest.

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.
(Matthew 11:28. NIV)

Transformation

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I woke up feeling irritable and tired, a deep ache in my bones that did not resolve with heat or coffee. Even my bible felt too heavy.

There is a despair that sometimes visits me and it’s hard to tell if it’s depression or simply fatigue. But it has value. It makes me vulnerable and real and honest and helps me talk out loud to God without feeling silly. “How did I end up here again? I thought it would be different now. Why do You expect so much of me and how can I do anything when I feel this bad all the time?”

Silence.

I thought about what what I might be doing wrong. (I always assume I’m doing something wrong.) I wondered why God wouldn’t let me just stop – not just working – but living. Sometimes it’s just too hard to keep trying to do the right thing.

But then I realized I was looking at it all wrong, that is, thinking that anything I could ever do on my own strength would be worthwhile.

Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu called herself “a pencil in God’s hand.” She knew what it meant to allow God to use you, to change you. Her belief led to her transformation into one of the most potent examples of Christ-like love on earth. Most of us know her as Mother Theresa.

Transformation is defined as “changing in composition or structure, outward form or appearance”. It also means to change in character or condition. The Business dictionary defines transformation, in an organizational context, as a “process of profound and radical change that orients an organization in a new direction and takes it to an entirely different level of effectiveness”.  Boring, but I like it.

Perhaps by changing the words I can make it more personal: A process of intense and revolutionary change that turns us around and sets us on a completely new path with a “fully equipped” and entirely different level of worth, significance and effectiveness. So much better than the basic model.

Jesus was certainly our best example of how love can transform people. He looked beyond what was lacking and loved people into wholeness. And He sees our ultimate potential and promise underneath the wounded, imperfect armor we wear.

He was the ultimate Resolutionary.

No, I didn’t misspell it, I simply found a word that suited me. “Resolutionary”

Revolution vs. Resolution: where Revolution is defined as an uprising, upheaval, transformation, change and Resolution is defined as determination, perseverance, purpose, promise.

Jesus, the Resolutionary, is the One who up-ends our lives with a  transformation of purpose, a riot of possibility, and our full potential to rise up with determination and promise. He sees that there is the tiniest space, a sliver of a void that is the ending of who we are and who we can become – if we allow Him to heal us.

Spiritual transformation is always personal. My Shepherd says to me:

“Do you really want to be healed and whole? Then stretch out your hand, reach out for me as I am reaching out for you. I love the imperfect mess you are, and because I love you I give you the grace to choose.”

The gift of freewill is just that – a gift. He wants us to choose him. Didn’t I want my husband to choose me? Love me freely without being talked into it? Didn’t I want to be his pearl, his chosen bride? And so Jesus wants me to choose Him. He doesn’t want me to settle for him, think he’s the best I can probably do for myself. He wants me to say Forever. For always. For keeps.

So yes, I do choose you Jesus – as my Savior, my Beloved, my Bridegroom. And I  choose your best for me whatever that may be. I trust you to love me enough to change and transform me into Your vision and dream for me, rather than my limited vision of myself.  To you I am a pearl, a “pearl of great price” that you gave all You had for.

If You think I was worth dying for, then I can believe You are worth living for.

Fear Calling

Today I went to the post office to mail my required documents to the Embassy of Afghanistan. It was a complicated jumble of paperwork with a number of steps. After several trips back to the counter with my questions, the postmistress watched as my shaking hands tried to stuff everything into a too-small envelope. “Isn’t it a hassle renewing your passport?” she said. I looked up quickly realizing she hadn’t looked at the address. “Oh no, I’m not renewing my passport. This is for a work visa.”  She glanced down  and gasped “Why are you going there?” I told her how I was going to be working at CURE’s hospital in Kabul and how nervous I felt just filling out the paperwork. She looked at me intently and asked, “Then why are you going?” There was a long line behind me so I just smiled, thanked her for her help and left.

Her comment made me think about the times I’ve simply had to believe that God knows what He’s doing and step out in faith, in spite of a queasy stomach and shaking hands. Sometimes we do what we have to because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s easy. Fear and comfort have never been deciding factors in whether I said yes.

Looking back, I am truly thankful for the stormy seasons, for they have taught me far more than balmy lulls. In fact, it can be very freeing to feel like you’ve lost everything. In the process, you also lose all your excuses.

When I shared my fears with a friend she asked me, “Are you having doubts about going?” I emphatically told her no. I have no doubt whatsoever about whether this is what I am supposed to do. “What are you afraid of?” she asked me. I told her I didn’t know. Then she told me about a time in her life when she was about to take a big leap and her friends asked her what she was afraid of. She said to me, “I realized I was afraid that my life was going to change. And it did.”

That was it.  I’m not afraid of doing the wrong thing, but I am afraid that my life will change.

I’m afraid because when you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else.

But I have learned that callings don’t go away. We may try to ignore them, and perhaps even forget them for a while, but as we are still and quiet and take time to heal, we remember who we are and who God has called us to be.

If I only paid attention to my rational mind, I would never leave my house. So I have had to tune out that inner critic inside my head and instead, start listening to my heart; that soft, persistent whisper, the True North of Spirit who has been waiting patiently for me all this time.

I can trust that inner compass.

I do have a choice. I could say no. I could tell God to send someone else, that I am too comfortable with my princess and the pea pillow-top mattress, hot showers, and clean drinking water. I could shrink back in fear. And I have done that before.

God called me at the age of 19 to go and heal the sick. Like Jonah, I ran the other way, afraid of what I had been asked to do. Almost 30 years later the call remains. I just never expected it to be Afghanistan.

Yes. I am afraid. I am afraid of pain, violence, hardship, fatigue. I ask myself can I do this? Can I really do this? And the answer is NO. I can’t do this. But I have been called to do this and I have chosen to say yes. I will go. I know it won’t be my own strength that I am leaning on and if God has called me to fly, then he will give me the wings to do so.

Maybe I couldn’t save my mother, or my sister or even my father, but I can return to the land of the people my mother loved. The land of my ancestors. My healing journey is calling me there. I have found it to be true, that as we heal others, we heal ourselves, and as we heal ourselves, we heal others.

Sometimes just showing up is all that’s required.

“All calls lead to some sacrifice because even just one choice closes the door on another…Every sacrifice though; every step towards action, every response to a call necessitates a leap of faith and is done without knowing the outcome. It is, as Kierkegaard described, the epitome of anxiety meeting courage.” – Gregg Levoy