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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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/

Grief Illiterate

I have had a phrase resounding in my mind for the last week that I haven’t been able to shake: “We as a culture, are largely grief illiterate.”

It was reporter Maria Shriver, who said this while she and Tom Brokaw were discussing the historic event of Pope Francis visiting the sobering Ground Zero memorial. The reporters talked about how the Pope’s itinerary was not going to have the religious man visiting the site of horrific terror. Because the former Pope had already been there. Pope Francis insisted he would go to Ground Zero, as well as visit with families of those lost on that horrible day 14 years ago.

Another reporter made the remark that with it now being 14 years since the Terror Attacks, the world has moved on. But that it was good to see the Pope taking the time to do something so visual for the families.

As if he was doing it for the PR.

I don’t know the Pope. I don’t know his thought process, but according to the public persona that he exhibits, I don’t think he did it so he would get good ratings.

Perhaps it was Pope Francis’ way of showing the families that they are not forgotten in a world that has moved on. That he still grieves over the senseless act that brought so much pain.

I agree with Shriver. We as a culture are very grief illiterate. We do not know how to grieve. We don’t know how to react when those around us are grieving. We become very uncomfortable.

We, thanks to an extremely misunderstood psychological model of grief, believe that there are 5 stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) and once we progress through one stage we won’t slid back into a former stage.

We forget grief is fluid.

We forget because we refuse to really enter into grief, and when we encounter someone who is really feeling their grief, we declare them clinically depressed. Even in that diagnosis, we refuse to allow the needed action of feeling grief.

There is no timetable for grief.

God has given us this amazing ability to cry. To cry tears of joy and of sorrow, and sometimes within minutes of each other. He has created a physical release for the emotions that must burst forth in someway, to relieve the pressure that has settled upon our souls. Salty prisms that pour out of the windows of our souls, reflecting to all who desire to see our deep pain or unbound delight. God created this gift that we refuse to use properly.

Around the world there are many ways cultures show sorrow over the loss of a loved one. Monuments are built to be a standing testament of their love, belongings are burned so that none other may hold what was once theirs, wailing in the streets for hours to let the world know that someone has died, wakes for people to remember, bodies dug up and paraded through town to show they are not forgotten.

Then there are the ones who in their deepest grief, erase the existence of the loved one from the family: names no longer mentioned, photographs removed.

So many ways to express grief.

Somewhere in between these extremes the American culture lies. Even with our morbid fascination with death, we fear it. It is an unknown, with no clear scientific idea of what is on the other side. With our melting pot of religions and cultures, we have a mishmash of ways to show our sorrow, but also an inability to really let it touch us.

Life and grief must go hand in hand. One cannot hold themselves free from emotions. If you do, you never really connect with anyone. But, it is as if we attempt to not feel deeply. We shush those who laugh loudly, turn away from those who cry, all in attempt to not be touched by the emotional confetti they are spewing.

Sorrow, mourning, and grief aren’t bad. They are cleansing in the most base form. It’s God’s release valve.

He commands us to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) Because a joy shared is multipled and a sorrow shared is divided.

Much like Pixar ‘ s recent movie “Inside Out” says, joy and sorrow must go hand in hand. Joy makes the sorrow easier to handle because it reminds us of happier times, tells us that we can be happy again. Sorrow makes joy sweeter because it makes memories stand out, and teaches us to love deeper.

As a culture, we suck at expressing grief. It’s because we fear to be weak. Grief is all about being ‘weak’ in the face of memories. It’s about letting the memories run you down, chain you and drag you through every moment and conversation. It’s about the release of pressure on the soul and the cleansing of emotions.

Grief sucks. But, it’s necessary. You don’t have to cry to grieve. There is no set rules about how you HAVE to grieve or even when. Just make sure you do, so the pressure doesn’t force a release, ruining other relationships.

We have the ability, we always have the chance, it’s time to stop being illiterate in grief.

Even as I finish this post, we have more to grieve. Another shooting, another school, more senseless deaths. Even when answers might be found it won’t negate the need to grieve. One won’t just get over the shooting, those directly involved will always bear the emotional scars of this day. There will be days in the future when it will suddenly hit them out of the blue, and tears will come. And that will be a release for their beleaguered hearts and souls.

We do not need to be illiterate in grief. Take a moment to realize that Christ himself grieved. He wept over the death of his friend Lazarus, even though he KNEW he was going to bring Lazarus back to life!

Jesus Christ wept. He grieved. He grieved knowing that it was going to be brief. He grieved because it was good to do so.

So, take a lesson from our Savior. It is good to grieve. There is no set time, place, or length to assign grieving. So, please, when you see someone grieving don’t hurry them up, but sit. Stay awhile with their grief, because a sorrow shared is a sorrow divided. Don’t let them feel alone.

“You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same, nor would you want to. ” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler 

Praying for Saul

You are a young woman in a smoldering town. Clinging to your robes are your beloved children. Your husband was just killed for refusing to bow down to the militants who are pointing guns at you now. 

They are demanding that you renounce your faith in Jesus Christ of the Cross and praise Allah. Your life and that of your children are forfeit if you do not. But, you know the truth. Your life is forfeit even if you do cave. As a woman, you will be raped to the point you crave death. Then, to make an example of you, these Enemies of the Cross will either strap a bomb to your chest or that of your children, and send you to a crowded mall to tear apart the fabric of society. Your children will not escape just because you renounce your Savior. They will be raped, beaten, and given guns to kill others. Perhaps like that poor woman from the town next to your’s, the last thing you will see is your precious son pulling the trigger of that rifle and ending your life. 

You refuse to cave. 

Kissing the faces of your beautiful children, you tell them to be strong. That God loves them and that you do too. You look into the eyes of the vicious leader of the pack, and see the eyes of the handsome young man who walked 10 miles to flirt with your cousin. Neighbors and old friends are in this group of ISIS soldiers, people who frequented your husband’s shop and broke bread with you. Now their hands ran red with the blood of their friends while their eyes raged hate. 

Quoting your Savior, you pray in a loud voice that seems to be amplified, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Looking at these men who you once knew to be gentle friends, you say with a smile filled with peace, “I forgive you. The God of the Cross loves you more than you can hate. You may kill me, but he will still love you. I pray you find him soon.” 

The bullets ring out from the man’s gun, and your last thought is that you and your children will be standing in front of God before your bodies will even hit the ground. While hate may have taken your bodies, it didn’t take your faith. 

What is your first reaction to this fictional story? It is hard to read, probably as hard as it was to write. This story, while not based on actual first hand accounts, is similar to what is happening in the Middle East wherever the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria  (ISIS) soldiers go. Centuries old Christian towns are being razed to the ground, Christians are being forced to renouncing their faith or being killed, many times they are still being killed.

No matter what religion a person professes, if they oppose ISIS they are often tortured and killed.  Numerous Muslims are also being killed if they try to protect their Christian neighbors or are from the wrong tribal group.

If you look at the International Christian Concern group on Facebook, post after post is about the men, women, and children who are literally meeting the sword point at the hands of ISIS who demand they “Praise Allah or die!”

While I have not yet had my faith tested at sword point, I know thousands of my brothers and sisters have died because they refuse to turn their backs on their Savior.

We are told by Jesus that the world will hate us for loving him. That what he suffered would be our lot if we decided to follow him. He suffered the worst agony a man could while hanging on that brutal cross, suffocating to death.

But, even as he gasped for breath, he forgave the very men who were killing him.

That is what we must strive for. Instead of being like Simon Peter eager to use his sword at the soldiers,  no matter how hard it seems we are to lay down our lives.

Instead we are called to be more like Ananias who was called by the Lord Himself to Damascus to show a blind and stumbling man the way to God. Saul was a zealot, the most righteous of the Pharisees, and he self-righteously and perhaps gleefully carried out the executions of those who professed to follow that man who proclaimed to be the Son of God. It was his duty to weed out the blasphemy.

But, one day, Christ asked Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?” In other words, why are you killing my followers?

Can you imagine if God called out a man, a devout man, from the camps of the enemy? A man that who is known for his zealous religious beliefs to be confronted by the very Savior whose followers he is actively killing?

God has done it already! So be praying for that Saul in the ISIS camps. Pray they will listen to the voice and visions that are calling them away from Allah. Pray they will be confronted by the horror they are creating. Pray that God will create massive change throughout the hearts of the enemy.

Pray for ISIS. Not that they will be killed, but that they will be changed. That they will find Jesus Christ and accept him as their Savior.

Pray for the Pauls in the making. That they may speak loudly of the love of Christ to what was once their own followers.

Pray for the Ananias’ who are being called before the very men who would kill them. Pray for their steadfast faith that they will stand firm in the face of fear.

Only God can do the impossible. Only he can change hearts. And he will.

The young man looked at the bodies of the woman and children he had just killed. The words she had spoken reverberated through him, shaking him to the core. 

He didn’t understand these Followers of the Cross. How could they still smile in the face of death?  They weren’t the first to die by his hand. Nearly all of them had died with dignity. A dignity that he never saw on his fellow soldiers. There was a certain peace that he could see on their faces that never made sense. 

A month later, the young woman’s voice still echoed through his mind. He hadn’t slept well since. He kept seeing a man in white who kept beckoning to him. 

The young man didn’t want to listen to the dream man, but he was curious about him. After they had busted down the door of another Christian family, he had found their Holy Book, prominently on the table where the old husband had died. He had been reading it whenever he could, even slipping it into his Quran cover.

He was starting to believe that the Christians might have had something. He was starting look for this man in white. He was hesitating to pull the trigger now. And eventually he stopped. 

God was calling him out to change the world.

My shoulders are tired

Last night, I watched “Moms’ Night Out,” and I highly recommend it. I understand this woman! I won’t give it away, because you HAVE to watch it. Suffice to say though is that there are three women who are beyond stressed out with their families. One in particular just can’t get a hold of life anymore and either needs to take a night off or is going to mentally break. Fun and hilarity ensue.

Now, while I am not a mother obviously, I am on that stress precipice where I will either explode leaving emotional debris everywhere or where I will cause equal damage by throwing up my hands and literally walking away.

But, right now, I am stress paralyzed. I totally concur with the movie–it’s a real thing.

I’m not getting respite on any of my three fronts. I can’t run to church to escape the tensions at home and work. I can’t hide at home on my days off to recover from work and gear up for church. And work is no longer a happy experience where I can focus on something to take my mind off of church and home.

And before you give me the supposedly sage advice of finding a new church or job– that is not going to fix anything. The idea of running away from the blessings God has given me, is not hardwired into my DNA. The opposite is. I care too much for the people involved to just leave when things get rough.

Running away– while a nice thought when your jaw aches from biting down on the harsh words that want to spill forth–never solves anything.

I think there is enough broken relationships in this world to prove that.

I am a fixer. I am a counselor. I am a listener. I am a caregiver. These are aspects of my core personality. I can’t change who I am. It is not in me to say, “I can’t handle any more, so don’t tell me anything else!”

I have been so consumed by the stress, that I, who process things by writing, haven’t written anything in many weeks. Which, let me tell you, adds more stress because what in the world am I stressing about?! I don’t know, because I can’t write it out. Argh!!

I always like to say that I don’t worry. Worrying will not change the aspects of the future you are concerned about. Staying up late at night chewing on your fingernails won’t change how much that doctor’s bill will be. Nor will it affect the flight that a loved one will be on as if your worry will be the cushion that will keep that plane from crashing.

Nah, I don’t worry. I stress! Totally different in my book.

I don’t care if Webster’s Dictionary says worry is a synonym of stress. You can’t believe everything that is written okay?

Webster’s says that stress as a noun means: “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” While worry means “give way to anxiety or unease; allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.”

Sure, I dwell sometimes. But, everything that is concerning me, isn’t even about me! It’s about people I love and am worried concerned about. How can I be there in the moment for them? How can I encourage them? How can I represent God’s love in the tension? How is it going to affect the community, family, client?

I’m not trying to control the world. I’m not even trying to change my little sphere of influence.  I just want answers to be given so people aren’t waiting for the next shoe to drop. So I don’t feel as if I have the weight of these people’s fear crushing my back.

My shoulders are tired from the burden I carry.

The unknown is scary. We do not know how to ready ourselves for the hidden threat. We don’t know if we need the shield or the first aid kit, if we need knives or bullets. We don’t know how to protect each other from the masked intruder who is right outside our peripheral vision. That dark entity that could possibly be holding a sharp knife that is ready to rip our lives apart. We’re in a constant state of readiness, waiting for the attack. Sometimes it happens and we can expel the adrenaline. Other times, we are in the fight/flight response with nothing to do. But be ready. Be alert. Be exhausted…

Sometimes, I feel as if I gather other people’s worries, fear, concerns, hurt, anger, as an attempt to get them through the problem. As if I am trying to protect them from that sick twisted emotional bomb by holding it for them. As if I want to throw myself on that grenade in a brave Steve Rogers act, so others have a chance to live. As if sacrificing my peace of mind will keep someone else sane.

I must think highly of myself.

We, or maybe I should just say, I, get this convoluted idea that if I work my butt off, I can protect people from…well, from life. I can keep my friends from finding out that their beloved parent has cancer. I can keep my parents from worrying about their financial existence. I can keep my grandparents healthy. I can keep my brother and his wife safe in Texas from the floods. I can keep gossipers from harming my church family with their vicious vitriol. I can keep my client safe from her anxiety. I can keep my community working together for the betterment.

(Humm, psst! Ranelle, you know, that sounds a lot like worry.
Nah…it’s stress, you don’t know what you are talking about. Shhh!)

I don’t have a messiah complex. I don’t have a hero complex. I don’t have a martyr complex. Believe me, I don’t aspire to be Captain Steven Hiller who takes on the alien ship with a nuke strapped to my ship.

I KNOW that the weight of the world is NOT on my shoulders. That the happiness of those around me is not my job. I KNOW this. But, still. I have a desire to make sure that if I can, I can keep them from shedding tears. I can keep the anger at bay.

I need to live in the Swedish Proverb, “Not my monkey, not my circus.” Or in BBC’s Sherlock’s Detective Inspector Lestrade’s motto: “Not my division!”

Don’t borrow trouble. You can be concerned, but ultimately, it’s not your job to shoulder the responsibility of caring for the world. God gave me the heart to love people, but he has also told me that I have a limit on how much I can take on. It is all in God’s hands. I need to stop taking my loved ones out of his hands, thinking I can do a better job at caring for them. Because, obviously I can’t.

Where I grow weary and exhausted with the strain, God never does. Where I get exasperated and frustrated by their actions that just cause more pain, God just continues to love. When I don’t know the whole story, God does and still loves. Where I make mistakes in the course of helping, God never does. God is the only perfect caregiver there is. I am a pale broken imitation. But, still God uses me.

So, today is a day of self-health. I am dating myself. I am finally writing, here in the park on a pretty day. I am taking a breath. I had my comfort food, aka Tacos. (Yumm) And I will go watch a movie. I will go home to play with my dogs and be snubbed by my cats. I will simply be. Try to keep from mind the problems that Sunday will bring, that Tuesday will hold. I will unclench my jaw and rotate my neck. I will shed this weight and put it where it belongs, in God’s hands.

When I start to take it back, I will say a prayer instead.

I will learn how not to worry the problem like a nasty mosquito bite. Checking in on it every few minutes to see if it still itches. I will pay attention to God’s police line, where it says “DO NOT ENTER” and in smaller words “IT’S NOT FOR YOU TO WORRY” (I mean…stress.) I won’t sneak under the tape and rob my loved ones back into my hands.

If you pray for me…I would be eternally grateful.

“No one can pray and worry at the same time.”– Max Lucado

Matthew 11:28-30– “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

Luke 12:25- “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

His Language is Spoken

I had the extreme pleasure of attending Joni and Friends’ first ever Global Access Conference recently. I am still struggling to put into words what I learned and to describe who I had the joy of breaking bread with while learning about their ministries around the world.

One thing that I can say with all certainty though, is that God is moving mightily among these people whom the world considers worthless.

I’ll be talking about it for some time, I am sure. I’d love for you to enter into the conversation with me, and perhaps it might get you thinking about your own church as well as your own interactions with those who are disabled.

The first topic we will look at can be found in the panel session I attended called “Learning to Speak Their Language,” which was about how to interact with children and adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness.

One of the attendees asked a question that is a common query in churches: “What if they can’t understand the Gospel?”

The panelist, who was a mother of a child who is non-verbal due to autism, said something that really struck me: “The Holy Spirit knows his (her son’s) language.

What a beautiful response! It totally wiped away any scientific, theological, or medical argumentation regarding what is human knowledge (in my mind). It brings it down to the most basic of beliefs–God knows my heart.

Theologically, we have decided that there has to be a ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ where we verbally recognize that we are sinners and are in need of God’s forgiveness. In many instances, when someone says they want to believe, we tell them that they need to repeat after me, an example of such a pray can be found on The Blessing House website: Lord Jesus, I come before you and confess that I am a sinner. Jesus, I believe that you died on the cross, and that Almighty God raised you from the dead. I pray that you forgive me of my sin, and be my Lord and Savior. In the name of Christ Jesus I pray this request. Amen

This is based off of verses such as Romans 10:9 Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

We must first acknowledge that while having a ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ is not wrong, it is not Scripture based. The only prayer that we are told to pray is the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. There is no description of the prayer that we are supposed to say in repentance and acceptance of God’s forgiveness. There are no motions that we are supposed to do, no assigned person we are to do it in front of, nothing we are told to do but: Confess and believe.

Now, it does say to confess with your mouth. This can be a hang up for those who are non-verbal due to illness, or some form of disability. But, it doesn’t have to be! Because, as God tells Moses, who is attempting to get out of the duty that God has set before him, in Exodus 4: The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”

To echo the mother at the panel session: God made you and he knows your language. He knows your language even if you have never spoken before. No matter the language your heart speaks, God created it: Sign Language, Hiri Motu, Korean, Inuktitut, and English or the roughly 6,500 other languages in the world. The story of Pentecost in Acts 2 is proof of that:  There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.

Why do we put human limitations on what God can do? Why do we make rituals take the place of the beauty of God’s encompassing love and forgiveness?

God knows your heart.

No matter your ability, God knows you. If you in your heart of hearts ask for God’s love and forgiveness, I cannot deny your salvation because you didn’t come to him the way I did. It is not my place to deny your salvation. It is my job to love you as a beloved child of God, and teach you the Gospel so you can know him.

Even if I believe that you might not understand, I am still tasked with the duty to tell you of God’s love and sacrifice to save YOU. Because when you stand before God’s throne, you will be judged just as I will, no matter the limitations that humans have placed on you. God will judge your heart to see if you have been made clean by his Son’s blood.

The Holy Spirit speaks your language and it is love.

So, to all the Christian believers out there, I urge you: Do not hesitate to reach out and speak God’s love to all you meet. No matter if you think they might or might not understand, God knows their heart. Do your duty with love and tell of God’s sacrificial love.

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Why the Manger matters

So, now we know why I, at least, think the Wise Men and the Shepherds matter in the Nativity narrative. So, what is the big deal about the Messiah being born in a manger?

The Manger is so important to the narrative. It is the marked difference between earthly kings and a Heavenly One.

What the manger shows is the sheer contempt that God has for the riches of this world. Where all other kings gather riches and comfort to themselves, almost always to the detriment of their people, the King of Kings decides to be born with no comfort beyond hay and a rough trough made out of stone. The Son of Man became the poorest of the poor, and the manger reminds us of this, for Jesus was to live through human suffering and wretchedness.

What the manger shows is that even at his birth, the Savior was not wanted by the world. Where the average baby was born in a home, surrounded by loving parents and family members eager to welcome the new child in, Jesus Christ was born with just his parents in attendance.

What the manger shows is that even in the Savior’s birth, the world despised him. Being turned away from the innkeeper, a pregnant Mary had no recourse but to give birth in this shelter for animals. Not only at his birth did the world turn their back on Jesus, but he was placed upon a rough wooden cross to die and then was buried in a borrowed tomb. The world has showed it’s contempt for the Messiah since the very beginning of his earthly life.

What the manger shows is the world does not know how to handle a Heavenly King. Everything a earthly king would have gotten when born was denied to the Son of God, and He came of His own free will to save us.

There is unimaginable beauty in the fact that a Godly King chose to be born as a baby to a virgin mother and a father who worked with his hands, creating. There is beauty that even when denied the adoration demanded of a kingly birth, nature and heaven still praised him. The lowly shepherds and the pagan wise men were the only ones who knew true deity when they saw it. They were the only ones to pay the earthly adoration demanded and were the only ones to bow before the newborn King.

Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Savior of all mankind, was born in a stable. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a rough stone manger, making his bed among the animals. He came to save the world of it’s sins, and not one person opened their home to his mother, who was in need.

Would you have opened the door that night?

Take a moment and thank God for the manger your Savior was laid in. For even though God held in contempt the riches of the world, he did not hold us in that same distaste.

This is what a manger would have looked like when Jesus was born. It wouldn't be these wooden ones that are so prevalent in today's pictures of the birth. Rather it would be stone, so strong hungry animals couldn't push it over.  Not very comfy looking even filled with hay, huh?

This is what a manger would have looked like when Jesus was born. It wouldn’t be these wooden ones that are so prevalent in today’s pictures of the birth. Rather it would be stone, so strong hungry animals couldn’t push it over.
Not very comfy looking even filled with hay, huh?

Luke 2 

The Birth of Jesus

 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire should be registered. This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town.

And Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him and was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough (a manger)—because there was no room for them at the lodging place.