Thursday, December 19, 2013

A New Tradition

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This past Thanksgiving, my family had an awakening of sorts.  The day started as it always does, with me up early in the kitchen working to prepare a special breakfast and ultimately dinner. Shortly after I begin cooking each holiday, my husband and kiddo smell something going on and they join me downstairs where the food is within reach.  We pray, we laugh, and we eat, and then I quickly return to my role as Thanksgiving Chef.  For the last seven years, with the exception of maybe one when we went out of town, I have carried out the traditions of my mother, and probably her mother, and prepared a feast.  It was a job I thought I loved...until I realized I didn't.  Over the last few years, I started noticing a pattern in my behavior each year.  As the morning progressed each Thanksgiving, this most recent one included, I began to get cranky and resentful of being the sole worker on a day that is relaxing for others.  Shortly following these feelings was guilt over not enjoying the sacrificial act of serving others.  "God, help me to love this and enjoy this day, and please forgive my sour attitude," has become a basic prayer over the last couple of years.  It didn't work.  No matter how much I prayed and tried to mold myself into a woman who loves to prepare a festive Thanksgiving feast for her loved ones, it just never happened.  Instead, I made everyone around me feel like they had to walk on pins and needles.  Worse, they were made to feel guilty for not doing more to help, and last year I even got flowers from my husband and son "in appreciation for all you do," as the card read.  I was moved and touched and then felt terrible for having made them feel like they had to reward me somehow for all my hard work.  This year I began to pray differently.  "God, show me why I act this way.  What causes me to behave so badly and how can I change it?"  What God revealed can be summed up in Isaiah 43:19 that says this: "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?"  I didn't need to be molded into someone different; the need was a new tradition. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Reckless Abandon

I've heard it said that our greatest stories come out of our darkest hours and from my own life, I know this to be true. Birthed from my hardest times have been my greatest victories, and the internal pit of hell I found myself drowning in back in 2007 marked the re-commencement of my relationship with Jesus Christ. Though I didn't understand what giving my life to Him meant 16 years ago when I initially invited Him into my heart, I grasp it clearly today, and it's rarely an easy walk.  God has gotten involved in my life's most personal and intimate details and shaken things up in such a way that has sometimes hurt, but always, always been worth it.  More recently He has been leading me down a path of both inward and outward exploration as I endeavor to navigate through the daunting task that is my dissertation. In heuristically examining the phenomenon of abandoned faith among former clergy (more posts on this later), I have purposed to immerse myself in the life narratives of those who have gone from serving God in the church to a life of atheism, and the journey already has been challenging.  While one day I'll experience great success in finding answers, other days like today found the enemy a temporary victor over my mind and heart.  As I tearfully talked through some of my struggles with my husband this afternoon, he gently reminded me that God isn't the only One walking alongside me on this path.  Our adversary, the devil, walks nearby as well, and as 1 Peter 5:8 says: "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." As I reflected over this, it occurred to me that I had momentarily let down my guard over the last couple of weeks, and unfortunately, the enemy is always watching and waiting for an opening and the door need only be ajar.  In he came and tore at my spirit, but God is faithful and reminded me that the enemy is desperate and fights us harder as our light shines brighter. To this end, I must give God my all in reckless abandon. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

On Becoming Atheist

I volunteered at a youth leadership conference recently and as I wrote my reflection paper for class, I closed my eyes and allowed myself to be swept away in the memories from the day.  Because the students in attendance were in middle and high school, my first reaction was to the surprisingly obvious age difference between us.  I felt old.  Though I'm only approaching 34, being married to someone who's nearing 54 makes it easy to feel like I'm still much more of a kid most of the time, which is why I'm sometimes caught off guard by the reality checks into my actual age.  As I watched this particular young group talk, laugh, and carry on as students their age do, I smiled a reminiscent smile while my mind traveled briefly back through time. For a moment I could almost touch the girl of my yesterday as she slammed her locker door shut and ran to class at a small public high school in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas.  I watched her in my mind as she sat with friends laughing in the student center when suddenly, I was jolted back to the present by paper assessments and pens being shoved into my hand by hungry students racing to the breakfast table.  What stood out most about the day, however, was not my age or theirs, but the unexpected turn of events that led me from a role I had planned for weeks in advance to one I wouldn't have even imagined had it not been sprung on me at the last minute.  As I stood outside in the cold receiving my new instructions, I looked up, and in the corner of the building I saw a tall wooden cross that reminded me that God was with me and for me.  The change in plans was only a small part of a bigger picture to accomplish His purposes, so I was faced with the decision to either move forward and trust Him or stop right there and leave Him. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Tell Me About You

As I drove to class this past weekend, I talked to my mom on the phone about the girls night she and others were going to be having at my grandmother's (or, "Nana," as I call her).  They were going to have games, food, and lots of fun, an evening truly not to be missed, especially in light of her upcoming 90th birthday.  Also in light of her approaching 90th, my mom wanted to make sure she was up for the action and Nana assured her she was when she vowed "if I get too tired, I'll just go to bed." So, it was settled, but we know all too well the truth that rings forth  from Proverbs 19:21 that says: "Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.," and Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 that says this: "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die." A man will live only until his appointed time to die, not a day less or more, and no one knew that morning that Nana wouldn't make it to that girls night after all.  Before the day's end, she was rushed to the hospital and never left.  Though her spirit ascended, her sweet, tired body gave out.  Nana's Ecclesiastes 3:2 moment finally came and she died that day.  When I received word from my sister, I sat in class 2,000 miles away, helpless to do anything at all.  So I prayed.  I prayed and fought to stay focused on the lecture, but to no avail.  As I closed my eyes tightly to prevent tears from falling, I could think of nothing besides Nana, and knowing the improbability of being able to fly in for the funeral, I only thought about it all more. The memorial service has come and gone now, but visions of her continue to flood my mind and I've had time to consider what I would say if I saw her today.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Uncomfortably Comfortable

I'm always amazed at how each passing year suddenly becomes the most challenging one yet.  In 2011, for example, I was convinced that my life's lessons on love, forgiveness, and faith couldn't possibly get any harder, but when the calendar pages turned to 2012, I was faced with new emotional hurdles that surpassed every preceding year's trials and tribulations. As I ran along my life's course the last two years, I didn't see certain things coming in either year, yet always knew somewhere in my heart that they eventually would.  Our past has a way of catching up with our present if we don't successfully deal with it at the time, and mine didn't just catch up with me momentarily.  It planted itself right beside my present, masked itself as my future, and generally messed with my head, which created an unprecedented spiritual and emotional turmoil.  Though 2013 has brought equally formidable challenges thus far, they are fortunately in different departments, but the one consistency has been the uncomfortable comfortableness of my own fears, insecurities, and weaknesses.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Show Me the Way

Over the years, I've often teased my 20 year older husband about his taste in music, and one night not long ago when I had to borrow his iPod was no exception.  As I headed out to the fitness room, I playfully poked at what I might hear when I turned it on, never dreaming that what I heard would be the inspiration for what I now write.  As I listened to Styx when they came up in the queue, I found myself not only smiling, but also senselessly singing along - at least until I remembered there were other people in the room.  Most intriguing to me as the words rolled across my tongue was the lyrical parallel to my life as I frequently find myself asking God to show me the way.  I am ever aware of my weaknesses, especially my internal navigation system for the future, which seems to recalculate on every whim.  More than once I've messed things up, gotten ahead of God, and fallen because of it all, but at a time in my walk with Him when I feel strong in my faith and discerning of His voice, I recently found myself feeling dejected over my ceaseless questioning regarding days ahead. It was in this low moment, however, that He gently reminded me that the day I stop asking Him to show me the way is the day I'll actually lose my way.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Girl at the Door

Twelve years ago in the middle of the night, I found myself regaining consciousness in a Days Inn of Maumelle, Arkansas.  As my eyes dared to open, pain surged through my head and body. I winced as I tried to turn and get up.  I felt like I'd been hit by a truck and I couldn't remember a thing about where I was, who I was with, or how I came to be waking up in this dark hotel room, but within seconds the memories, many of which I wont share, began crashing in.  Though they were still foggy and coming faster than I could process, I was at least aware of the room, myself, and a cloudy recollection of my friends who certainly must be somewhere nearby.  Nothing could have prepared me for the two strange Hispanic men I saw in their place seconds after my vision came into focus.  My friends were nowhere to be seen, and as I struggled to think and move at the same time, I realized I wasn't even fully dressed.  Suddenly, terror began to well within my core as I quickly scrambled to find my clothes, phone, and other personal belongings that accompanied me earlier in the night.  Though my head felt like it weighed a hundred pounds, I quickly dressed and searched for anything that was mine, but found nothing.  As both men began to stand, I spoke the first words through building tears and rising vomit, and asked "who are you?" but received no reply.  Instead, they looked at me and then at each other and I knew I had to get out fast.  As one of the men moved towards the door, I caught a glimpse of the other one moving in behind me as I also moved towards the door, but within seconds I had my hand on the knob and dashed out.  Not knowing where to turn or what to do, I began knocking on every door in a desperate search for my friends, but it wasn't until recently that I actually saw the girl at the door.

Friday, June 21, 2013

And Then I Saw It...

I woke up around 4:15 this morning to an upset eight year old conversing with me as though I'd been awake for hours.  Usually, when he needs something in the middle of the night or early morning before I'm up, he does the normal shoulder tap accompanied by a gentle whisper of "mommy, are you awake?" but this time was different.  He was already in full conversation mode by the time my left eye sluggishly began to open.   "What?" I asked, and then I heard him continuing with "...and I think I threw up..." at which point his little voice began to drift off again.  At this point, I wasn't even sure what was real and what was just a vomit detail of a dream gone gross, but there it was again, this time louder - "and it's on my bed..."  One eye fully open now, I asked him to repeat the problem.  "I threw up and it's in my bed," he loudly responded. Surprisingly, even then, I was still a little confused about what was happening and I wondered how long he had been talking into my nearly deaf ear.  "Did he say he threw up and it's in his bed?" I asked my husband with a few firm pats on the back to make sure he was also awake.  "Huh?" was his barely audible reply.  As the seconds passed, I became increasingly aware of my consciousness and somehow managed to open both eyes.  Coordination absent, I got out of bed and stumbled through the dark hotel room, certain not to miss the shoes left out in the middle of the floor. After I groggily found my way to the bathroom, I gave my eyes a good rub, flipped on the light, and called my son over to me. And then I saw it...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Say My Name

As my 33rd birthday recently came and went, I was uncharacteristically peaceful about the uncertain direction of my future.  Although today I know more about where I'm heading, when I started this entry, I didn't have a clue. I was still in the process of praying and trying to understand what had transpired as my best laid plans came unglued. Even now, I know things can change in an instant, and I leave behind me a trail of incomplete projects, manuscripts, and blueprints, yet I know each article of unfinished business is a piece to my life's greater puzzle and God's holy purpose. All too often over the years I've allowed myself to be swept away with who I am in the eyes of fellow men and women rather than resting in whose I am through Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:10).  As the days go by, however, I'm discovering a new confidence in Him that is increasingly unshakable by my life's unknown future and course.  This steadiness was further cemented by an almost unnoticeable verse in the book of 1 Chronicles.  In chapter four, we are given insight into the family lines of Judah and Simeon, but in verse 38, we're told that "these mentioned by name were leaders in their families, and their father’s house increased greatly." All of a sudden, I was engrossed by the four little words "those mentioned by name," as I wondered who wasn't mentioned at all.  What was so special about those mentioned by name, and at the end of the day who do I want to hear say my name?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What Am I Doing?

I listened to a sermon a few weeks ago in which my pastor talked about our church's food ministry, specifically, what it means to be a part of it, and it occurred to me that although my particular church is relatively small, its endeavors to feed the hungry are mighty. From providing help to the congregation and local townspeople each week to a group of young adults who take food to the Santa Ana homeless every Saturday night, Grace Harbor Church of Tustin, CA (http://www.graceharborministries.com/ ) doesn't just talk the talk, it walks the walk.  However, as I examined my own shortcomings, I realized that while it's appropriate to consider the collective church's ways, especially when looking to get involved, the more pressing issue is not - what is the church doing to help others in need, but what are YOU doing and what am I doing?  After all, what is the church if not a body of people (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) made up of flawed and imperfect individuals just like you and me? Or, better stated by John MacArthur in Ashamed of the Gospel: "The church is not the brick and mortar assembly in which the assembly meets; it is God's people in whom He dwells," but never forget that those dwelling places are also the home of our own inner sinful man. And yet remembering this, we're still content to point fingers from the comfort of our living rooms and sneer at all the hypocrisy in the church, but until we're willing to get out there in the middle of it and be the change we wish to see in the church, our mouths speak wiser words when they say nothing at all (Job 13:5).  Instead of asking what the church is doing, ask yourself - What am I doing?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Jesus in the Room

When I was 15, I attempted suicide with 59 pills of ibuprofen.  I had just gotten in more trouble than I had ever been in before and to be honest, the thought of living scared me more than the thought of dying, and though I didn't know whether or not the amount I counted out would have what it took, I went to bed and decided to try and sleep. If I was lucky, I thought, I would die peacefully while I dreamed.  Things didn't go as planned.  Instead, after considering for what felt like hours that I might have made a mistake, I decided it would be a far worse fate to confess my error in judgment and the best decision at that point would be to let whatever happened happen.  Though I drifted off to sleep somewhere through the night, I woke up with abdominal pain so bad that death couldn't come soon enough.  However, I spent the remainder of the night and early morning fully alive in the fetal position as tears soaked my face and sheets.  It seemed I would have to face a new day, and though I can remember wishing then that the pills had worked, I'm so grateful today that they didn't.  It is one of various key times throughout my life that I know Jesus was in the room.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Present

In November of last year, I left my job with a clear vision of what I was going to be doing in the days and years to come.  I had been accepted at two universities to begin work on my doctorate degree and I was ready to do it, but in the preparatory weeks that followed my resignation, I began to sense God telling me otherwise, specifically, don't do it.  After all the time and effort I had put into returning to school for a third time, not to mention the others who had contributed their own time in the form of writing letters of recommendation, I was absolutely flabbergasted that God would ask me to change my plans and not go."What are you doing?" I asked the Lord in exasperation and confusion.  I was so certain after all that it was His will that had compelled me to make the decisions I had made, and in addition to that, if I didn't go after this degree I had no idea what I would do instead.  "Rest" seemed to be His overwhelming and consistent response, but "I don't know how," I repeated many times through prayer.  "Stop," the Lord continued, and to which I responded almost frantically, "stop what!?" "Everything," He finally said.   And there it was.  God wanted me to stop acting, stop moving, stop questioning, and especially stop talking. He wanted me to just stop everything, especially the constant running I so effortlessly do on the hamster wheel in my head.  More directly, He wanted me to simply clear my mind of...well, me, and be with Him here and now in the present.