Doubtful Faith

One of the hardest things about being a Christian is, for me, struggling with doubt. 

Other Christians tell you the cliches that seem to be bred into our Sunday School faith. “God has a plan,” “God never gives us more than we can handle,” “Everything happens for a reason.” In other words: how dare you be in doubt! If you believe in God, you can’t doubt! It’s un-Christian!

Non-believers who know you are a believer, jump on you. They make the doubt stronger and more uncomfortable because they are looking for a reason not to follow this “Jesus thing.” You are an example/ experiment that is being played out in real time in front of them. You are the reality star in their Survivor: Faith edition.  

I want to hazard a thought. 

I think doubt is good for a strong faith. 

It’s taken me a long time to come to this conclusion and feel comfortable enough to share it. 

Doubt can make my faith stronger.

Doubt comes in many flavors. 

Strangely though, when one believer hears that another believer is doubting, they seem to always think it means doubting in God. Like I doubt He truly exists. That soon I’m going to be one of those missing-link-believers-big-bang freaks they are afraid of who is killing God.

At least that’s what I feel like they think the few times I have voiced the burden of doubt on my shoulders.

I know people who have gone through this doubt. I understand it. You watch the horrible things happening in the world and possibly the own pain you are going through and wonder: Why? If you believed and loved well…why would a good God allow so much pain? 

So the doubt you struggle with, the doubt other believers don’t help you carry, wears you down. Some of you might tentatively cling to your beliefs, but maybe not necessarily your faith. You keep the good things of the ‘religion,’ by helping others and attempting to live well, but you don’t give credence to the heart changing soul saving aspects of the faith anymore. It hasn’t changed the world for the better, so if there is a God out there, He is no longer involved with His creation. 

Others throw the baby out with the bathwater. God is not real. He can’t be. A loving God would never allow this, so He doesn’t exist. You were brainwashed. 

I have never questioned if God was real since I placed my trust in Him. I also have never questioned His grace or love. That is not a burden I have been forced to struggle with yet, thankfully. I truly feel for those who have to. It is an extremely difficult burden to unload. 

God has always been very real to me. Things have happened to the good, that there was absolutely no way it would have happened by human hands. I have been greatly comforted in heartwrenching sorrow, by an unexplainable peace.

Instead, what my doubt is, is my worthiness. Its not necessarily my worthiness of God’s grace and Jesus’s sacrifice, though on rare dark nights of the soul I find myself wrestling with that question. 

Rather, I doubt my worthiness to be a part of God’s plan. 

I see myself as too insignificant to be a gear in His plan. I’ve always have had this weird vision of the Book of Life open in front of the throne at Judgment Day, turned to my name. There isn’t anything written under it. There is no accounting for what I’ve done or haven’t done. Simply my name, written in Christ’s blood. Proof that I loved Him, but no proof that I lived for Him. 

Some days that snapshot of a daydream haunts me. It fuels a discontentment in my present day environment that I struggle with. 

And I ask myself: What am I doing for God? 

>>I want to take a moment here and make myself abundantly clear: I believe that according to what the Bible has taught me, salvation is not based on my good works. There is absolutely nothing I can do to earn my salvation. It is a gift freely given by Christ when He took my punishment for my sins and died on the cross. The only thing required of me to receive that unearned blessing is to ask for it. Even if it is on my death bed, I still can ask for it. And I will receive it. Because its a gift waiting for me to unwrap it.<<

I am surrounded by some on-fire people with the vision of what God demands of them. They see a chunk of His plan so clearly that it seems that their mission field is so ripe that the fish are jumping in the boat and the fruit is falling from the trees. They have that brilliant passion that just drives them forward. 

I know that what I perceive isn’t always what is happening. I know that they all have their own fears and struggles. But my very human doubting mind wonders. 

Have I missed God’s call? 

But, then again, why would He want me when He has her? She gathers people without trying, she’s so energetic that people line up to help. 

I can’t do that. 

Did you know that Mother Teresa, a woman well known for her faithful service, had doubts? In 2007 a book came out with letters to her confessor that poured out the pain of doubt. 

It rocked the world in many ways. The media of course used it to show how fruitless faith in God was. If a woman as sacrificial as Mother Teresa wondered about a loving God, how can He be real? Some people even labeled her a Christian Atheist.

Supposedly, when she first reached out for comfort and guidance in her “dark night of the soul,” one priest urged her to keep quiet and confess her sins. He did nothing to help her understand her doubts or to strengthen her faith so those dark nights didn’t become dark years. He was fearful the impact it would have on other people’s faith.

Where is my Faith–even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness–My God–how painful is this unknown pain–I have no Faith–I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart–& make me suffer untold agony….Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?— Mother Teresa, Saint of Calcutta. Undated Letter, quoted in “Mother Teresa: Come be my light” (2007) 

How heartwrenching. If only this woman had someone to walk with her in her dark nights. To hold her faith until such a time as she was ready to carry it again. Not to condemn her for wrestling with her questions, but to love her until she could feel God’s love again.

Isn’t that what the Body of Christ is for? We are called to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep for those who weep (Romans 12:15).” Those who are doubting are weeping. Do not be Job’s friends who tell the man he must have sinned for everything that happened to him. It isn’t a sin to doubt. 

We live in a very broken sin-filled world. Bad things happen. Any believer who says they don’t question it has to be lying or hasn’t read their Bible.

We do such a great disservice to other believers when we don’t ask for prayer and guidance when we struggle.

Church has too often become a building where you come to show off your perfect mask of peace and contentment, rather than the raw honesty of broken tears and uncomfortable anger. There is an unspoken law that we must not make other people uncomfortable because then we can’t win their souls. So we peddle the Prosperity Gospel lie. “When you become a Christian everything become perfect. You no longer struggle, you no longer cry, and you always win.” If mature Christians can’t handle hard times of doubt and bad things happening, how can we expect brand new believers to?

And the first time a new believer stumbles, they beat themselves up. They are a failure. They either run from God, thinking they are unworthy, or they no longer advance of in a deeper relationship with other Christians and God. 

We will stumble. 

We all have our trip ups, our temptations, our trials. We will make mistakes. You are human. God knows that. 

If Jesus Christ, the Son of God, himself wondered if God could let the heavy burden pass from him, or voiced His concern of His Father forsaking him– HE UNDERSTANDS. (Matthew 26:39, 27:46)

God never created us to be mindless followers of Him. He wants a relationship between us. He knows that questions will come, arguments will happen, tears and laughter will be shared. He knows that we will have doubt. This world breeds it like cockroaches. 

He just asks us keep the communication channels open. 

We could totally be Jonah. And God will still use us. I think He’d prefer us to be willing though. 

Jonah questioned God’s justice. He questioned it so hard–because he knew God was just and forgiving– that Jonah ran! He tried to get away from God’s sight even though he knew it was impossible. He got swallowed by a large fish as a disciplinary action. The prophet finally went to Nineveh, dragging his feet. When he told the town about the judgment God was getting ready to mete out, it wasn’t with a passionate cry to listen. It was “God is going to kill you, so repent. Or not. I don’t care.” Then when God actually did forgive the people- like He said He would- Jonah basically said “Kill me now.” Then got another lesson from God.  

Jonah spoke to God and heard His voice. And still he doubted.

Abraham and Sarah, the very beginning of the faith of Israelites questioned God’s plan. They tried to make God’s promise work because they could simply not see how they were to have a child in their advanced years (Genesis). And Abraham is still considered a Hero of the Faith  (Hebrews 11). 

Peter denied knowing Christ three times– even when Jesus told His disciple that he was going to do so. And he lived with that regret even as he worked his mission. (Luke 22:54-62)

All the twelve men with Christ’s inner circle struggled with great doubt when they saw Jesus die. How can this man die? He says he’s the Son of God. How can he die? 

Thomas doubted so strongly the story of the Resurrection, that he said he wouldn’t believe until his fingers were within the wounds on Christ’s body. (John 20:24-25)

Doubt is real.

It isn’t a sin.

Jesus didn’t reprimand His disciples beyond telling them that He said this was going to happen.

Don’t let anyone shame you for your doubt. And don’t shame anyone for their’s. 

I urge you, as someone who doubts, to speak about it. Do what you need to do to move through your dark night of the soul. 

Pray. Get into nature and feel God’s power. Read the Scripture. Listen to music, read devotions. Find the stories of missionaries that speak to you. Find the prayer warriors in your church and ask them to pray. 

God gives us ways to work through those moments/ years of doubt. We just need to learn how to use them.

I doubt. My heart and mind go to battle and I doubt. I wonder how God can use me. But I still move forward.

Find a way to keep walking until your doubt doesn’t cling to you anymore. And help someone else when they start to doubt.

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Fight for your health 

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This blog post has to do with women’s health. It may be considered graphic to some. This is my story. In no way am I an expert, but this is my fight for my health.

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I’ve debated about writing such an intimate post for months. Then after finally having surgery three weeks ago, I really started praying about it.

I am not an expert. I did not explore all avenues, but I did commit to a very life changing surgery in the attempt to live better.

I realized that knowledge is power. That doctors don’t know everything. That second, third, fourth, and eighth opinions are worth it because it is my health.

I realized that if I didn’t have my mom, my own age friends, and the multiple years of experience found in the older ladies in my life, I could have very well kept living with the pain. I had three or four doctors tell me it is normal.

It is not normal.

If you are living with similar pain–or any unexplainable pain, you have the right to fight for your health. You have the right to demand the doctors listen to you. If they won’t, find a doctor who will.

You are the one who has to live in your body. No one else. The doctors don’t, your friends and family don’t either.

Your body is telling you something is wrong. Pain is your body’s way of telling you to help it. Those who are use to pain too often accept it until the pain gets so bad you can no longer function.

I was quickly getting to that point.

Every single day I lived with pain as my constant companion.

Every day my lower back felt like someome had my spine in a vice as they twisted and pulled it. Occasionally every few hours, I’d get a hot poker stabbing me in the middle of that vice. The feeling of hot lightening would flare through my legs followed by wobbly knee numbness.

My abdominal muscles were equally tyrannical in their doling out of pain. I did not know a day without cramps. Cramps. Such a tame word for something so encompassing.

These muscle “spasms,” would knock the breath out of me and more than once had me running to the bathroom to throw up. Imagine a water balloon. When you tap it, the whole balloon shakes with the contact. That is how these cramps were like for me. I felt it throughout my whole body.

My back pain would multiply during my cramping sessions. Though moments without cramping were few and far between, and as the years went by, even more fleeting.

I had constant headaches that no medication would touch. Two doctors gave me muscle relaxants to calm the spasms to help relieve the headaches, not the cramps or the back pain. One other doctor told me to take a different relaxant during the worse of my cycle to ease the pain. They wanted to throw pills at the problem rather than find the cause.

I bled every day of the month. I have no clue what a “regular” period looks like. I bought 4 months worth of heavy overnight pads that would usually not last me a complete month.

I was always fatigued, from the pain and the bleeding. I battled nausea throughout the month as well as painful gas and other digestion issues.

There was no relief.

I sought after an chiropractor who at least helped to keep me moving despite the back pain and gave me a few hours to a few miraculous days of less pain.

An acupuncturist who helped me at least manage my digestion issues so it wasn’t too consuming, and she also helped take the sharpest edge off of some of my headaches.

And also a Structural Integrationist, whose knowledge helped me to keep breathing despite the pain. Her work on my muscles helped me keep a range of motion that I think would have disappeared if she hadn’t loosened up my joints.

Despite all of these wonderful practioners who truly know their trade and the human body, I didn’t find lasting relief. I just found temporary bandages that last for too fleeting of a moment.

While I had other damage done to my joints, muscles, and bones due to various injuries, that pain was nothing compared to this.

There is a family history of menstrual cycle problems. Some of the women had hysterectomies after having their children because of the pain and bleeding. At least one of the women had endometriosis and tumors.

Every time I brought up the possibility of endometriosis to the doctors, they told me I was too young or there was no proof that I had it.

They instead prescribed numerous hormone treatments that all made me very sick from the age of 17 to 21. Every time I would complain about a horrible side affect, they’d try another. At least three of those treatments are now featured on ads for medical lawsuits. I eventually gave up on them. They didn’t help anything–no lessening of blood or pain. Didn’t even help with my acne! All I got from them was severe nausea, joint pain, and a crabby attitude.

The only truly conclusive way to prove endometriosis was through exploratory surgery. It would take me nearly nine years of doctor searching to find one who was willing to do that exploratory.

Only for her to do lack luster job of it. She told me that my surgery would last a minimum of an hour and half, but probably be two hours. I would have a minimum of four incisions but will probably have five.

I was praying as I signed the release form, that maybe her scalpel would slip, so I would have to have an emergency hysterectomy. That should tell you how exhausted I was physically and emotionally facing that surgery.

I was under anesthesia for a total of 30 minutes and only had 2 incisions. She found polyps, scrapped my uterus, and was done. That was it. At post-op when I couldn’t handle the disappointment and started crying, she told me that I’d have to get used to my “supposed” pain. And offered me another muscle relaxant.

Her bedside manner sucked.

And my pain became even worse. My bleeding was so excessive after the polyp removal and scrapping, I was changing pads every two hours if I was lucky. My cramping was making me vomit, and no matter how I laid, I couldn’t stop my back from hurting. I’d wake multiple times during the night because it was hurting so badly.

I was becoming bitter. I had trusted my doctors to help me, and they weren’t. My emotional health was finally starting to cave under the pressure of the chronic pain. I was becoming angry at the drop of the hat and my patience was in short supply. I wasn’t me.

The masks that I wore to hide the pain were starting to fray.

It was affecting my ability to care for my client. It was affecting my spiritual life as well.

Three years later, the back pain was so intense I was getting ready to attempt to find a new doctor. I was talking to multiple ladies I trusted and asking for prayer. I was trying to get my nerve up to talk to another doctor.

I had nearly 10 years worth of charts, mapping out the different symptoms and the durations. The first surgeon had barely looked at them. But I knew that I had to be ready, because many doctors had told me to go home for six months and chart before they’d do anything. My mom kept that fresh in my mind, so I constantly updated those charts.

One friend spoke to a nurse friend of her’s about my history and she urged me to get an appointment with the doctor she worked for.

It took that one visit with one of the first doctors I had seen, to get the ball rolling. She remembered my history and how badly I reacted to hormone treatments. And I was bawling. I was at my wits end. She offered other possibilities such as a IUD, new hormone treatments, another scraping, or an ablation, but said that there’s the strong possibility of having to come back in in less than 6 months.

I was done. I had prayed about it for over 12 years. I was mentally prepared for the hard decision. I could not handle the pain any more. If it was just the horrid bleeding and cramping, I could do it. I’ve done it for 20 years. But the back pain. I couldn’t handle that anymore.

The day after my birthday I met with her, and we started getting the blood tests and ultrasound tests out of the way. I was having a hysterectomy. A month and a day later, I got it.

I think I also got to the magical age when they listened to me. Maybe finally at 32 I knew my own mind.

My back pain has basically disappeared. Once my chiropractor gets the surgery kinks out, I think it’ll be great. That twisting vice is gone. It’s only been 3 weeks, but I noticed it in the hospital hours after the surgery. I was laying down and my back wasn’t killing me.

My doctor found clear endometriosis on both fallopian tubes, the left ovary, and on my uterus. There were multiple cysts in both tubes as well as the ovary. She sent my uterus in for a biopsy and they found extensive adenomyosis that was nearly through the uterine wall. The only way to diagnose adenomyosis is through a hysterectomy biopsy according to my research. 

The possibility of me getting pregnant would have been very slim, and being able to carry a baby to term was even less.

My doctor told me that women with endometriosis tend towards bad periods. Women with adenomyosis have hellacious periods, with excruciating back pain.

And 95% of women after a hysterectomy no longer have back pain.

I have to remind myself to still take it slow because my surgery pain from the removal of an organ and a half is nothing in comparison to the pain I’ve been living with.

Do you know that on average it takes women anywhere between 7 and 10 years to get a diagnoses for endometriosis?

It’s considered a low estimate that 1 in 10 women are dealing with horrible pain that can cause miscarriages and infertility. Depending on where the endometriosis spreads to, it also can cause bowl and bladder issues. Some types of endometriosis are even hemorrhagic, which causes bleeding within the belly cavity. 

Both endometriosis and adenomyosis are also notorious for causing problems in a woman’s sex life. The diseases can attach to the pelvic wall and the cervix, which then can become inflamed which leads to infections, torn skin, and horrible pain. All of these added pressures can eventually break down some of the most solid relationships between partners. 

(The following three charts were the most beneficial for me. Because I could say, yes! This is what I’m feeling!)

Dr. Axe’s chart- he promotes all natural treatments

Endo-resolved, a website that offers information & support

A blog about an artist living with Endometriosis 

The emotional toll that these diseases have on a woman are immeasurable. 

We look to other women–mothers, sisters, and friends– for support and encouragement. We want to compare and contrast what we are feeling to know if we should seek medical help. But too often, we either don’t speak up about our own problems, or we mock the other woman’s pain, telling them that they’re being weak and a period isn’t that bad. 

Endometriosis is not just a period. It is a disease that is extremely painful to live with. 

Then when we do get up our gumption to go to the doctor, we find someone who won’t even contemplate the possibility. I’ve been told by various female doctors that painful periods are normal. That heavy bleeding and back pain are normal. That I need to toughen up because I’m going to be living with it for years. 

It is not normal

The emotional toll can be more devastating than the physical sometimes. 

I choose the most drastic step in fixing my pain. I removed any chance of giving birth to my babies. 

No matter how much I wanted an end to my pain, that is still a bitter pill to swallow. I choose the ending of a possibility of a dream of a biological child, for the chance of less pain. When/If I ever have the opportunity of a relationship, that pill may very well feel like it’s choking me. I just pray that the man can love me for more than my uterus. 

I had the chance to not go through with the surgery. I had the opportunity to really pray over it for 12 years. Numerous women don’t get that chance.

I’ve had people tell me that “I never realized you were in so much pain.” Or they would rather mourn over the discarded organ instead of asking how I am doing. 

I can’t Velcro it back in. Nor would I want to.

The surgery isn’t fool proof. There is always a chance that the endometriosis had spread. Though my doctor did look at my bowls, bladder, and surrounding muscles to hopefully make sure it hadn’t, there is always a chance that it was hiding. Some women continue to have problems with the disease even after a complete hysterectomy. 

There is a possibility at a later date that I will have to go back under the knife to remove my remaining ovary if it is painful. We left it in hopes of keeping my hormones in balance. It wasn’t encased in endometriosis like my other one was. 

Endometriosis is not spoken about much. Not nearly enough doctors know about it, or know the symptoms well enough to suspect it. 

Women are speaking about it more. Younger women are seeking help for it. It’s not an older lady problem only. Doctors have to become aware of it so they can help. If you suspect you have it–research it! Gather intel so you can show your doctor how your symptoms match up with women who had it.

Fight for your health. No one else will fight has hard as you do. 

This is my story. It’s still being written. I’m only 3 weeks out from the surgery. But I wanted to share it with you before my memories fade because I don’t necessarily remember the sharpness of the pain i lived with every day. 

This story is very intimate. But it is true. If I can help one woman fight for her health or one man understand a small bit of what their loved one is dealing with, then baring my soul and my underwear drawer for public consumption is worth it. 

I am not ashamed of the choice I made. Everyone deals with pain differently. I figured there was enough pain I have to deal with every day, why keep battling something that can be taken care of?

This is me. Looking forward to being healed and facing the future.

~~For more information about endometriosis and adenomyosis these are a few websites that were helpful for me:

 Hystersisters-This website is dedicated to helping women who are facing a hysterectomy and have already had one. It has forums and articles to help you.

>>It also has information to help the men in a woman’s life understand what this surgery and the recovery entails. Mister Hystersisters

medicinenet.com— a list of symptoms and medical information

Endometriosis Foundation –a resource to help spread awareness and provides valuable information.

Adenomyosis Advice –similar to the Endometriosis Foundation.

Gyn Care –learn the difference. While endometriosis and adenomyosis can happen together, they are two different diseases that can cause different symptoms.

Do not grieve (JAF Camp 2016)

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I just recently finished serving a week at Joni and Friends Southern Oregon Twin Rocks Family Retreat. This is my fourth year serving at this camp that caters to family with disabilities. These are families who fight for their loved ones so they can get proper medical treatment, education, and spiritual care.

These families travel across the nation to participate in four days of camp on the Oregon Coast, because there isn’t something like it where they live. While more Joni and Friends retreats are being set up, the need is so great that the demand overtaxes the supply. There are families who plan their whole year around these four days, that is how important it is to them.

This camp is a place where the campers can be kids, and families can focus on just loving each other rather than being on the defense against other people’s curiosity and advice. Here they are eagerly anticipated and accepted. They are not considered ‘other’ or ‘different,’ they are simply seen as someone to love.

Short-Term Missionaries (STMS) are volunteers who come and serve these families. They are all age ranges, from 10-80 at least, who are so eager to love on these campers that they save up all year to attend. This is not a camp where volunteers put in a few hours of work in the kitchen to have a free fun time. No, this is a place where STMS are paired with a single camper and their duty is to be their friend for the week. It’s a place where they are truly missionaries whose mission is to show these campers that they are deeply loved, exactly for who they are. We have STMS who do bake sales, garage sales, mow lawns, build birdhouses, and numerous other things, to raise money, because this retreat is that important to them. $450 is a lot of money for a 13 year old to raise, but they do! And now many of them are raising about that much money again, so they can serve in the next week of camp as well. The STMs love it just as much as the families do.

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All of our camp volunteers (STMS) Nearly a 100 kind spirited people giving of their time and money to serve

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Our whole family camp! Campers and STMS together

This year our camp verse could be found in Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” But, the verse is right in the middle of a sentence. What the actual sentence says is, “Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”” 

Nehemiah is an amazing book full of God’s mercies and work. It’s about the Israelites getting to go back to the Promised Land, after being put into the chains of slavery due to their sinfulness. It’s about a pagan king who listened to the voice of God and allowed his cup-bearer to leave and build the walls of Jerusalem once again. It’s about the eagerness of the God’s people hearing the words of the Lord once more. It’s about the joy of finding God after years of silence (on the side of the people).

In this section of Scripture, we find the people hearing the Word of the Lord for the first time in years. They were weeping because they hadn’t heard it for so long. But, this was a time to celebrate. The Word was available once more. It was being read from early morning till midday. And the people stood to hear it.

Do not be grieved. Don’t be grieved that before you didn’t understand the Word. Do not be grieved over the past deeds, because now you have the way to make your slate clean. Do not be grieved.

It is a time to rejoice! To revel in what the Lord has done! He has done the unimaginable and it must be savored. He has brought the Israelite nation out of slavery and out of their sin and has brought them back to their forefathers’ Promised Land. The pagan king funded the rebuilding of Jerusalem! How amazing would it have been to be there, to walk back into that land that was your father’s and know that you could come home.

Nehemiah is telling these people who were weeping over the loss of time and of the Word, to not grieve, to rejoice, because that joy of the Lord is your strength. The joy of the Lord is your strength. Rejoicing and reveling in the Lord gives you strength.

These families with disabilities know what it is like to grieve. Some days, it may feel like they can never find anything to rejoice, but then the joy of the Lord strengthens them. And this camp gives them that strength.

But, at the same time, these families know how to rejoice over the little things. Things that might seem inconsequential to us, but are major milestones for their loved one. And this camp helps them rejoice over them.

Joni and Friends Family Retreat is an experience like no other. It is hard to use words to describe it adequately, because there isn’t one thing similar to pull from to compare. It is often compared to Disney, as being the happiest place on Earth, because at camp, the campers can just be kids. No expectations to fit into any mold that one may insist on being the perfect one. No trying to remember the arbitrary rules of society so that one can be accepted. No acting a certain way so that you won’t be laughed at. No explaining why you do things differently than others, why you walk the way you do, or why you can’t speak.

These people at camp, they understand. They look at you, and see simply, you. You. The one God declares Beloved. You, who God created with great love. You, whose beauty can be seen as God intended, rather than as a mark against the plastic perfection of society. You, whose talents are marveled at, whether you can sing or draw, or throw a ball, or take your first walks on screen. You, you are celebrated for being you.

Here your ticks are accepted. Here sounds that are voiced are cheered. Here you can run because its just so much, and we will run with you, rather than force you to stop. Here your mask can be left at home, and the real you can be let out to enjoy the world as it was meant to be. Here people rush to meet you. Here hesitation and fear have no place as you are loved. Here people will share their food and their space. Here the need for quiet is understood, but so is noise, and what a joyful noise to the Lord we make together! Here miracles happen on a regular basis, voices are found, friendships are made, love is given. Here, angels tread and God blesses those he calls his.

God’s love for you is your strength. He knew you when he placed you in that womb. He knew your life would be difficult, but he knew he wanted you. You were not a mistake. He rejoices in you, every minute of every day. He knows you and loves you just as you are. He gave you spiritual gifts to bless this world, don’t let anyone get between you and worshiping your Father. Share your gifts!

I know a camp where we are eagerly awaiting to celebrate them…

I highly recommend Joni Eareckson Tada’s biography if you have never heard about this ministry. Joni- An Unforgettable Story

http://www.joniandfriends.org/store/product/joni-unforgettable-story-discount/

You can also follow her radio/video series, many of which can be found here:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/jonis-corner/

For more information about Family Retreat, please see:  http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/

For more information about volunteering at a Family retreat, please see:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/for-volunteers/

A Christian & A Muslim in Walmart 

A handful of years ago, I had just gotten off of a double shift that included a graveyard. I was tired, grouchy, and still in my scrubs from my job at an Adult Foster Home.

I was at the point of being too tired to sleep, so I had gone into town to do some errands before having to get back for another double shift. I hoped I could burn off some of the jitters so I could grab at least few hours of shut eye.

I was digging through one of those $5 movie bins at Walmart trying to find anything that wasn’t a B-rated movie. A gentleman stopped by just as a family of three walked off with a handful of cartoons and boxes of candy.

He murmured a hello, and I flashed a quick polite, yet distant smile as I continued to dig. I barely registered his white skullcap or his traditional white religious shirt and trousers.

After a minute or two of quiet digging he cleared his throat. “Doesn’t seem to be much in here.”

I chuckle and shrug, “No, but I keep hoping there’s a diamond in here.”

“Yes. Something to eat up the hours while waiting for the sun to come up again.” He sighed as he started to stack the DVD cases.

“I’m doing a run of graveyard shifts so I understand that.” I flipped through a few more movies as his pile became larger. He started a second and third pile and I realized he was separating them.

“Are you a nurse?” He asked with polite hesitancy on the word while motioning at my Eeyore covered scrubs.

“A caregiver. I work with the elderly.” Then, through my exhaustion, I noticed his sad look and nervous hand motions.

“That has to be hard. Do any of them…do any of them have Alzheimer’s?” He stopped fooling with the DVD cases and smoothed down his shirt.

I also stopped flipping through the movies to look at him. A gentleman who was probably in his late 50s with his own brand of exhaustion lining his face. There was a mixture of fear, sadness, and a hint of desperation in his eyes.

“Yes. I have a few clients with Alzheimer’s. I’ve worked with those living with that nasty disease for a number of years now.” A light seemed to enter the man’s eyes as I talked.

“My mother has it. I had to go home to collect her. Iran is all she ever has known. It’s so different here. I wonder if I did her wrong, bringing her here.” He rubbed his face with frustration.

I desperately wanted to give him a grounding touch on his arm at that moment, something to show him that he wasn’t alone. But, respecting his religious garb and the vague knowledge I have of his culture, I refrained and attempted to pour all that compassion and concern into my words.

“It’s never wrong to take on the hard duty of caring for your parent. It’s a lot of sacrifice. Do you have family here to help?”

“No, I’m all that’s left. That’s why I brought her here.” He started digging through the movies again. “She is so angry. Some days she throws things, others she screams. Some, she just weeps. I come here to Walmart just to wander the aisles. Just to breathe without her. Then I feel guilty for leaving her. What if something happened? My mother was never a happy woman, but now she is just so….just so full of hate. I am so tired.”

“It is tiring. Especially if you can’t take time for yourself. Does your mosque have any community services to help? I know of a few, such as Catholic Services that help in the home. If nothing else they can come for a few hours so you can go for a walk or do errands.” I wracked my brain for any of the local community services that were available for such issues. “Or a neighbor you’d trust to watch her for an hour? Someone who could do with a little money?”

“I am no longer connected to my mosque since moving down here. It’s been a few years, most of my friends are gone. They don’t want to be around a man who is worried about his mother all the time.” He sighed. “It just keeps getting worse. Some mornings, I hope she might not wake-up. I’m a horrible son.”

“You aren’t horrible! You’re burning out. You need support. I know it’s hard to even to contemplate, but if she is getting too hard to handle, you might have to think about putting her in retirement home. Where they can have someone able to watch her 24 hours a day. It’s hard to think it might be time for that, but it might be best for both of you.” The man looked near tears as I finished speaking.

“I’m just so lost. I just want to do the best for her.” He looked at his watch and sighed. “I should get going. I’ve taken up your time and I have left her too long. Thank you for talking with me.”

Nervously, I offered, “Sir, would you mind if I pray for you? I don’t want to offend you, but I’d really like to.”

He smiled, “Prayers are always welcomed. I’m assuming you are Christian?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you.”

So, at that moment I prayed for this gentleman from Iran in traditional Muslim religious garb who was worried about being a good son to his ill mother. I prayed for wisdom for the next step, patience in his care, comfort for the mother, and a community that would support them.

After I finished, he patted my hand that rested on the movie bin. “Thank you young lady for listening to my rambles. For your compassion.” He left with a blessing to Allah.

It was a chance encounter. Two very weary people wanting to find rest. 40 minutes of talking. I’ve never seen that man again. I never found out his name. But, I think of him often.

It wasn’t my first conversation with someone in the Muslim faith. I’ve always had very nice cordial interactions with them before and since. But, this interaction in particular has constantly reminded me how very human each of us truly are.

With all the constant news regarding terrorism, al Qaeda, and now ISIS, it is sometimes difficult to remember that the 1% of “Muslims” who are killing, do not speak for the other 99%. Men and women who are just living life the best they can. They have the same hopes, fears, and yes, even enemies as we do.

I, as a Christian, do not want to be lumped into the same group as those who are fanatics proclaiming to be apart of my faith. I don’t want to be associated with the 1% of  “Christians” who attack people out of fear and hate. The KKK, Westbro Baptists, those who attack people who appear to be different than the “righteous,” do not speak for me, my faith, or in the name of my God.

Why do we insist on doing the same to Muslims?

When ISIS attacked European cities over the last couple of months, worldwide tears were shared. When an attack on a LGBT friendly nightclub in Orlando was found to have links to support for ISIS, tears and rainbows abounded. Hours of news reports flooded the tv.

We were united in condemning the actions of terrorists. Domestic and international.

I applaud the actions of compassion and unity. Show your support.

But, then I start hearing the troubling news of innocent people being attacked as they attempt to go to local mosques. Bomb threats on places of worship. Where children are. And I am ashamed of my 1%. The 1% Christians who spew vitrol out on social media hidden by their keyboards, the 1% of Americans who think hate makes us safer hiding behind their patriotic pride.

It saddens me more as I hear of the numerous terrorist attacks in the Middle East being linked to ISIS. Of the Muslims being slaughtered during their holiest of months, because they weren’t willing to partner with their 1%. 

But where is the outcry? Where are the tears and the show of unity? Where are the candlelight vigils? 

Suspiciously absent.

For God so loved the world” Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “everyone but them.” You cannot condemn the actions of a terrorist group but be quiet when they kill those who share the same faith system.

Turkey has had at least 7 attacks this year. I’ve only heard about this recent one in passing on the news. I certainly didn’t read about it on social media. Other Middle Eastern cities have been attacked by advancing ISIS soldiers as well. But, it’s just silence until it spills over into Europe or America again.

It’s not right. As a Christian, I believe that every single person on this earth is a child of God’s. Whether we call him our Father or not, we are still his. So I must grieve when I hear about more senseless deaths and terror.

The 1% does not control my actions. Fear does not make me hate. Instead, when the days get dark, I remember my Iranian friend who let me pray for him in Walmart.

I remember that love is always stronger than fear and hate.

We are all children of God. And I love you because you are family. And I will grieve with and for you. You are loved.

Failure is ALWAYS an option

I hate failure. With great passion. Admittedly, I hate it so much I fear to start something just because I could fail. Looking back over the years, I know I have missed some amazing opportunities because I fear to fail.

The world has made me fear. It’s definitely not God’s doing. God wants to push me over the edge because he knows my wings will make me fly. Fear does not have God’s flavor on my tongue at all, it’s acidic and has a nasty back-taste. Where God and his promises are full bodied and effervescent.

I have been contemplating failure a lot lately. Part of the reason is that I am nowhere near where I would have thought I’d be by now. I had this amazing life planned, working in a hospital and volunteering with retirement centers around my community as a chaplain. Perhaps finally doing a little bit of traveling. I never thought that life would be taking the look of what it is right now. I never thought God would place me where he did when he seemed to fill my mind with such dreams.

My life is not bad. I am very blessed to have the job I do, taking care of a lady who is just a few short months away from turning 100. I’ve learned a lot taking care of her. I am an active member in my church as a Sunday School Superintendent and teacher, which still surprises me since I grew up in that church. To think that these people are trusting me to teach them God’s word is daunting and occasionally nerve-wracking. The responsibility is big and I am still learning. Just because I have a piece of paper that says I satisfactorily completed Bible studies in a graduate level school, doesn’t mean that I still don’t have a lot learn.

Sometimes, I desperately miss school. I miss the constructed learning environment where I could fail and learn without it it necessarily making a huge impact on my life. I miss the drive that I had to succeed– not that I don’t still have it, but it seems to be missing a focus on a set goal. Now my drive to succeed sometimes just feels like getting to the next paycheck. Not that inspiring.

Life is about failure. It’s about coming at a situation and finding a way through it. Most time, if we are honest with ourselves, it rarely takes one time through a situation. We usually have to stop and reevaluate our tools and knowledge before attacking it again, perhaps at a different angle.

God gave me dreams for a reason. I think he has given me the ways to put them into action. I just need to learn how to trust him more than worrying about my bank account.

Failure in the science world is seen as a success in many ways. Albert Einstein famously said, “I have tried 99 times and have failed, but on the 100th time came success.” Scientists don’t give up when they meet with resistance. They take notes and then tweak a variable before attempting it again. Their brains- their hypothesis–says that it should be possible, they just need to find a way to make it work in real life.

To live life as if it was a hypothesis. A possibility that could be made reality. To know that dead ends and sudden twists are great adventures that mean it could still be an amazing discovery. To know with certainty that what you know to be true still has the ability to amaze you when you discover that there is more than that certainty.

It’s interesting. I view my theological inquires- my study of the nature of God and my religious beliefs– as a human hypothesis of God. I have long believed that if I held my beliefs as such, I would be able to be willing to let God show me his true self. My feeble human words can never accurately and completely describe the Divine. The Divine cannot be contained in the failing words that I use. To believe they can, is to shove God into a box, and he cannot be contained. I read all theologians’ writings with this thought, it is their very human attempt to explain an aspect of God that they see. They are bound to make mistakes just like I am. If I have a prayerful heart and ask God to continually show me who he really is, I am less likely to be led astray by theologians whose own prejudices influence their definition of God and salvation.

Perhaps this seems to be very childish view at God from someone who has a Masters Degree in the Bible. But, then again, Christ exhorted the disciples to come like children to him, which is to say, humbly and without artifice. When those who call themselves theologians and have the degrees to back them talk of God, do they do it humbly? Or is it with a certain arrogance that says they know it all? Listen and learn from them, but make sure you always have a faith that is open to God’s guidance. When you speak to others about the God you follow, be honest, say you don’t know everything but what you do know has changed your life.

I have been blessed mightily by the theologians that God has placed in my educational/spiritual life. But, I know that they don’t know it all.

I will always need to learn more about God. And I will never know everything about my faith and salvation until he calls me to his side and explains what it really is. My human hypothesis will then be put to the test, and I much rather hear him say, “Close, but let me show you what you didn’t understand.” Rather than, “Wrong! That is not what I was doing!”

I am attempting to live life as a hypothesis. There is nothing stopping me from trying again, but myself. It’s hard to put into practice though. Human constraints whether real or imagine seem to wrap themselves around me and I hesitate. Why am I willing to do it with the most important aspect of my existence- my faith- but I’m not willing to do it with this very human existence? Failure seems to be knocking whenever I think of going off script.

Makes me want to pull a Mythbusters and blow something up before trying again.

Here’s to living life without fear! May I seek it with a full heart, because God gave me wings and is encouraging me on.

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Walmart Bullies

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We point.
We snicker.
We groan at the poor choices.
We click a photo to show others.
Some of us might even post it for the whole Internet to get a chuckle over.

But, we don’t consider ourselves bullies.

Just a little harmless fun. No harm, no foul.
We can’t be bullies if we never even talk to the person. We’re not physically causing harm, and the odds of them seeing themselves on some website? No reason to worry.

Just sharing a chuckle. That’s all.

Did you know that there is a website dedicated to making fun of people in Walmart? I only know this because my Facebook page is bombarded by snapshots of innocent people living their lives. Average people plastered on screens by others who think it’s funny to pass on a little slice of humiliation wrapped in poor tasting humor.

I am the first to admit there have sadly been times where I have joined in on the snickering bully train.

But, then I remember, it could be me.

It’s not just Walmart that collects the jokes, though it seems to be a favorite stomping ground for the bullies. It is any person anywhere who is dressed differently, acting oddly, or has an unexpected feature that seems to be fodder for those who love to poke fun at others.

I think we ALL can be accused of jumping on the bully bandwagon at some point in our lives. We cave under the pressure of others’ expectations of humor, or are so uncomfortable by the innocent person’s look or attire that we have to share the experience with others.

We are weak.

We speak a good game against bullying, but we turn around and laugh at another person’s clothing or weight.

We embody the disease that is bullying when we do that.

How can we expect our children to rise above these pitiful actions when we as adults are even worse?

We live in a world that hides behind screens and usernames. It removes us from the pain we have inflected. It gives those of us who have been mercilessly bullied in “real life,” power to cause the same harm on those who might be considered popular. We remove our filters when we stare at the false example of life that is found on the computer screen.

Misplaced hate and fear spew across the keyboard with all the vitriol possible.

It does absolutely no good to the other person to be mocked. It does us no good to mock anyone. We may think that it doesn’t do any harm to us the mocker, but I think it stains our souls. It makes us less compassionate to another’s blight. It makes us less willing to help someone in need. It ultimately makes us less willing to acknowledge the other person’s humanity.

We make those who are being mocked into the “Other.” Someone who is not worthy of participating in our brand of humanity. Someone who is not worthy of common decency.

We participate in the act of attempting to crush their spirits. To make them less.

That is bullying.

So, I urge all of us, myself included: if you don’t like another person’s clothing, hair, or weight–don’t look!

It is truly that simple.

I know someone who feels like she has to say something about someone every time she sees them. Comments range from, “If you walked more you wouldn’t limping.” Or “Long dresses make you look old.” “That man needs to see a barber.”

It wears on my soul to hear her negativity. It’s constant. There is no edification in what she is saying. She sounds so bitter and hateful. She does not add beauty into the world when she talks like that.

There is an old childhood saying I grew up with, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” It really needs to apply to our presence not only in real life but on the computer as well.

We should be helping put a stop to mental illnesses that are abounding. We should not be adding our mean thoughts to those whose brains are already being bullies. We should not push people into self harming themselves because our words do indeed have power.

Yes! Sticks and stone do hurt, but words wound so much deeper than the fleeting pain of bruises. Words create large open wounds in our minds and hearts that never truly close. Because we wonder, maybe what they are saying is true. Maybe I really am worthless. Maybe I really am a waste of space. Maybe I really am ugly.

Clothes are just fabric made out of fads that change with the days. Ultimately they have no bearing on your standing in life. We must look past the ripped jeans and tube tops. Clothes just cover a body that God created with love.

You have no idea why someone’s weight is the way it is. We all struggle with forms of eating disorders. Americans do not know what a proper serving is anymore. So we all either love food too much and over indulge (guilty) or despise it and the pleasure God has created for us in the ability to enjoy it. We judge people on eating meat or not eating meat rather than asking what makes you personally more healthy? Our dietary needs are all different, and we need to encourage each other to find health rather than our idea of the perfect weight.

We perpetrate negativity and harsh unattainable goals which cause people to starve or cut themselves or seek oblivion in drugs or death. We do this to each other. Our beloved friends and family members in their off handed comments about others, dig into our souls and cause us doubts.

We bully each other without even realizing it.

The next time you see someone that makes you want to snicker and point, instead see the humanity in their face. And give them the respect and decency that someone might deny you. If a person’s clothing or weight makes you uncomfortable, don’t look.

Be an encourager. The world has enough critics already.

You are better than someone who mocks others simply because you can. We are all better than that. Let’s remember to be good humans who add beauty to the world when we speak of others.

Be good. No matter where you might be.

The Burden of a Blessing

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Have you ever stopped to think what a burden a blessing might be?

We ask God to bless us without really knowing what we are asking for.
We wish each other God’s blessings on days of birth and holidays. We ask for blessings of health and wealth as if those are the only forms of blessings possible.

Do you know what a double edged sword God’s blessings can be?

When you ask God for his blessings, do you ever stop to think what you might be agreeing to?

Studying the major blessings that we see in the Bible, I think they all come with a heavy burden. I wonder if I were to ask Abraham, Moses, David, Mary, Peter, or Paul (to name just a bare few) if they would say that while worth it, God’s blessings were particularly heavy at times?

If you knew that you were going to be plunged into the fire to be molded and sharpened, would you be eager to be a recipient of God’s blessings? 

If you knew that to get the blessing you would have to do something that was going to be difficult and trying, would you still ask God?

I think we really need to think carefully about asking God for his “favor and protection.” God is no wish fulfilling genie. There is a purpose behind everything he does. While he protects us from the talons of the evil one, perhaps his favor has a heavier load that accompanies it.

For example:
Abraham was called out of his culture to be blessed mightily by a God forgotten by most of the population. By answering God’s call, Abraham is accepting the first part of a contract between himself and the Divine. By seeking God’s blessing – the promised offspring that will be multipled greatly- Abraham is in essence sealing the contract (a binding agreement) with God.

Both God and Abraham must fulfill their part of the agreement for the blessing to be fully realized. This is where the burden can be seen.

Now, we must remember that in all subsequent contracts we look out, God has always laid out exactly what he expects and what he promises. God has never breached his contracts, nor does he hide in loopholes. He did no less with Abraham.

Abraham is a product of his own sin though. Where God has promised -blessed- him and Sarah with a multitude of descendants in their barren union, Abraham’s duty was to have faith and trust in God’s timing. Thankfully, God still brings into completion his side of all contracts despite human failings. Abraham, with prompting from his wife (also a contractee) manufactures a loophole in the blessing.

Instead of waiting for the promise to come to birth, Abraham attempts to do it in his own terms, by producing a child with Hagar. Effectively starting the war between two sons’ descendants–Israel (Isaac) and Islam (Ishmael). Two children whose blessing is a big burden. Both equally blessed by their Father’s God with a multitude of descendants who, because of that same father’s sin, will be at war against each other until the end of days.

The burden with the blessing. The burden ultimately comes from the inability humans seem to have on completely trusting God’s promises and causing problems with our bumbling. The blessing was pure: Isaac was promised in God’s timing. Abraham’s line was set up to be gloriously long. But, he couldn’t wait, because his faith just wasn’t strong enough. So, the contract had a human sized hole punched through it, causing God to do what he promised twice. Ishmael equally received the inheritance of being Abraham’s son.

God does not lie. He promised Abraham that his children would outnumber the sand on the shore. That means to completely fulfill his part of the contract, God had to bless each child from Abraham’s loins equally.

This burden of blessings, can be seen in the interactions of Isreal the nation with God as well. You first start to see the inkling of the difficulties that Isaac’s children will face before he is even born. Genesis 15:13 says, Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be foreigners in a land that does not belong to them; they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years.”

To be called out as different from the surrounding tribes would have been a heavy burden to carry. The very customs God wanted them to use were to declare them set apart. Isreal was to be an example of righteousness, and in that to be a shining light for the pagans to see.

When Moses came on the scene, he was part of Abraham’s blessing and a bearer of a renewing of the blessing on Abraham’s descendants. With the renewing additional blessings were handed down, along with a more refined covenant. The covenant though was still very closely related to the original blessing, but because it was dealing with a much larger contractee/ person group the language was much more defined. The 10 Commandments along with cultural laws were shared between God and the Hebrew people.

These laws were set literally in stone to show the Hebrew people exactly how different God was calling them to be. But, once again, God asked if the people were really willing to follow the very strict rules he was giving. Exodus 19:5  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples ….And they promised they were willing. Not once! But twice! Exodus 19:8  All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Even in the midst of worshipping a man made cow, they said they were willing to follow the rules.

So the blessing was given. The burden was felt. In an effort to be considered truly different from the surrounding tribes, the Israelites were in essence, declaring a cultural war. The God they worshipped became a feared unknown entity to the enemy.

The burden is truly felt when other nations attacked them on the battlefront. Or, when God disciplined the Hebrew people because they were choosing not to fulfill their part of the agreement. The burden is felt when God has them dispersed over the centuries on a number of occasions to remind them of his blessings. Through slavery and homelessness, God reminds his people that he alone is their resting place and their salvation. The blessing can indeed be heavy.

Then we jump to the New Covenant because God’s Son completely fulfills all aspects of the old contract, not just the promises that God puts forth but the human side as well.

Jesus Christ brings into complete fruition all parts of the original agreement between the Divine and Abraham. Along with all the renewing contracts with Abraham’s descendants. God does not null and void one little bit of the blessing.

God knew that we humans could not fulfill our side of the blessing contract even when we tried our hardest. So, instead of ripping up the agreement –or suing us– as is his right as the Contractor, God instead keeps not only his side of the promise, but ours as well! He provides the ultimate form of our agreed upon service – faith and trust- in his Son, who trusts his father so much that he died to complete the blessing.

Because God does not lie or cheat, he made sure his contract -blessing- was 100% fulfilled. He provided the means to make sure it happened. No loopholes.

The blessing of a baby was a heavy burden for Jesus’ mother Mary. Because of her righteousness, she was deemed worthy.

Mary’s burden was difficult. Even if you ignored the fact that she was an unwed mother at conception, she was literally giving birth to a child that she was going to have to see die. Her burden was of the heart, she was going to have sacrifice her little boy as a man on a cross. As a devout Jew, she would have known that her child was going to face something horrible. She and Joseph would not have been naive in the raising of their son. The blessing would probably have been a very heavy burden, but not nearly as heavy as when she kneeled in front of her bleeding, gasping for air, tortured, precious little baby boy who was taking on the sins of the world as he was nailed to the Cross.

The heaviness of the blessing must have driven her to the ground.

I think, to truly appreciate God’s blessings, we must feel the burden of them. God’s blessings should not feel light and airy, because I don’t think we recognize the significance of what he is giving us.

There are sayings about trials being blessings in disguise. Or that the struggle to get where you are now was actually a blessing because, now, you know you appreciate what you have.

Perhaps, to receive God’s blessing, we need to sacrifice our comfort to be a part of the contract. We live in a sin riddled world and our own sins affect the way we interact with God. We will continually fail in keeping our side of the agreement, but we are called to keep trying. Our faith and trust in God are the services we must render to fully appreciate God’s blessing.

Thankfully, God does not search for loopholes like we do. He does not void our contract every time we slip up. Instead, unlike human contractors, God fulfills both sides of the agreement.

But. We will be held accountable for our services. God is no push over. He made a promise to Abraham’s descendants. He made a promise to the world at the death of his Son, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) But remember, God, especially in his love, will hold us accountable for that which we have not done.

You cannot partake of God’s blessing if you do not enter into the contract with him. He cannot force you to sign on the dotted line, accepting the burden of his blessing.

I honestly believe that if asked, Abraham, Moses, and Mary would all say the burden is heavy, but the blessing is glorious. And very worth it.

So, the next time you wish for God’s blessings on an endeavor, think. Are you willing to shoulder the burden that comes with it? Are you willing to truly sacrifice your comfort to sign on the dotted line of working with God?

I might have to remind myself throughout the trials and probable suffering that the world will use to make me attempt to find a loophole in my contract, but I want to be part of God’s blessing. I want to feel the weight of the burden of proof of God’s consuming love.

I want to fulfill my side of the contract.

So I have to remember, as the world knocks me to my knees, the blessing might be a heavy burden some times, but oh, it is so worth it.

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