It’s (“Supposed to be”) the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

We just made Christmas cookies that looked like sprinkled blobs and then threw a dozen burnt ones in the trash. I barked at my daughter for eating the flour. 3/4 of our Christmas tree lights went out last week and it’s likely to stay that way until the tree gets dragged to the street with a needle or two still intact. The Christmas season sometimes just ain’t what it’s cracked up be.

I read an article recently that discussed why our culture is so ate up with the Hallmark movie genre. Believe me, I’ve become one of the first suckers to the DVR to record The Mistletoe Promise or Christmas Bride. It’s because we love the happy ending and the cozy world it allows us to visit. The real world can be harsh and scary, so the escape is lovely at times. I see nothing wrong with it, but I hate to think about the rat race that we can enter that has us desperately trying to recreate that image in our own reality.

In the midst of our “joyous” cookie time tonight, I was proud of myself for recognizing that I wasn’t feeling sad and disappointed like I have so many other times when it wasn’t Hallmark quality. I was rolling with it and just didn’t give a hoot that I’d added too much butter to the dough and that my kids were pouring sprinkles down the hatch straight from the jar! It felt great! Maybe that new anti-depressant of mine is kicking in or maybe, just maybe, I’m just getting to be more aware of how imperfect life really is and that it’s really OK.

Hear this, dear reader, everyone really does have something that stinks in their life. Looks are incredibly deceiving. Just last week I learned about something really lousy about someone that I truly thought had it all together. I would have NEVER guessed they had such struggles, but it ended up allowing me to further respect them and empathize with their pain.

Christmas can be complete and utter joy with twinkle lights, beautifully iced cookies, and the most amazing gifts under the tree. It can also be emptiness, grief and stress; maybe even a bit of both. I write tonight to encourage you to remember that. You never know what someone is feeling, despite the beautiful family photo they post on social media. Look for the little bits of joy and soak up that full feeling you get when it’s beautiful. But also be ok when it falls below your expectations. Heck, the movie It’s a Wonderful Life hits the nail on the head with this lesson! It can be a wonderful life, heartache and all. We have to look for the good.

Merry Christmas!

It’s Dark in Here.

The mountains and valleys of life are very curious and unpredictable. Just when I think I may be turning the corner or slowing down the ride for a nice view, the roller coaster does a big dip and makes my stomach flop. If you know me at all, you know I greatly dislike roller coasters. I don’t like the unknown, the icky feeling, AKA “thrill” feeling it gives some people.

Though I recently went through a really rough batch and felt forgotten and lonely, I ultimately know that I am not. It’s so easy to forget when it’s dark though. I imagine you can relate. I heard this message in a few different ways as I was working through the dark spot: look for the little ways that God is providing, nudging me, or reminding me that He’s there. In one of the sermons at church I heard, “the way God often works is through committed kindness, little by little”. That can come in many ways and I found it a timely and helpful reminder to keep me from wallowing too much in my self-pity.  A kind encourager told me that God reveals Himself way more than I likely realize. As I have come to recognize and gratefully so: just because God doesn’t fix me or my circumstances doesn’t mean He’s not present. I have spent a lot of time getting caught up in that frustrating web, which really ends up just entangling me more tightly. Tim Keller says, “If we are in a storm and we pray to him, he may still the storm (Mark 4:39), or he may instead help us, as he did Peter, to walk through the storm without sinking (Matthew 14:27-31).”

I hope you, dear reader, can begin to look up and out more often at the ways your Creator may be providing for and encouraging you. Ask Him to direct ways that you could be used by Him to encourage someone else. He is good. No matter what it looks like outside or feels like inside, He is good. 

Wherefore Art Thou, Holy Spirit?

I think if I looked back at my journals over the last year or so, I’d see a lot of frustration being pointed to my inability to hear or sense God when I wanted Him to tell me what to do or provide relief. I was reminded numerous times of Mother Teresa, when after she passed away, they found her own writings that showed her often experiencing a stale faith and a quiet God. She still obeyed and practiced such self-discipline and trust in the way that she kept on serving and loving others, but I can imagine that would be very challenging. So many well-respected Christians from our history have experienced their own bouts of depression or lethargy when it came to their faith. God is quiet sometimes. However, other times He speaks so clearly through miracles, circumstances one could never be convinced are “coincidences”, dreams, hearts and lives changed, etc. I know it is wise to learn to expect an ebb and flow in faith patterns and that it is very normal. He is always with us, regardless of feelings, but it is also wise to know His promises so we can lean on them in the dry seasons.
I have wanted the touchy-feely faith that some people seem to have and I’ve wanted it to comply with my idol of comfort. I like happy thoughts and smooth days. I like feeling organized and in control. I don’t think that’s crazy or abnormal, but it can make emotions that are different than that bring me down and feel frustrated with God. With my prayers, as I addressed in a previous post, I’ve spent a lot of effort trying so hard to hear from Him; maybe hoping for an encouraging phrase or clear direction of some sort. I have had an experience like that a couple of times in my life, but it is not a regular occurrence. So often I forget that God can “speak” through other people, things we experience or learn, but most importantly (but often times the most challenging) through His Word.
Within just the last month or so, I have come across repetition on this issue. My brain needs repetition. Just last week I heard myself saying something like, “I read this last week, and then the sermon on Sunday had the same message, and then wait! this was in my stinking notes from bible study!” I like it when He does that. He gets me. God knows my skeptical, stubborn nature.
Some of the rich information I have learned recently addressed how the Holy Spirit works in our lives. The Trinity is by far one of the more challenging concepts to attempt to understand, but the mystery of it is becoming almost beautiful to me. I love to see Jesus as the physical human example of God; God with skin on. Jesus is a way for us to hear His words and see the way he treated others, so we will also know how to attempt to love. He is the “only mediator between God and mankind” (1 Timothy 2:5). The Holy Spirit, or sometimes called Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, or Helper (my favorite) is the connection to Christ for us humans. One of the most significant ways I learned the Holy Spirit works is to bring to mind what Jesus has already said. This was a huge revelation for me! This may sound silly to a mature believer, but I have spent so much time trying to “get” God to talk to me, when that is exactly what the Word of God is meant to do. I’ve always known I’m supposed to read the Bible, but it ain’t easy. It can be intimidating. I read the Word when I do bible studies or devotionals pretty regularly, but I am yet to be really IN the Word; where I am genuinely feeding on it, reading it as true daily instruction or the ultimate way to hear from the God of the whole universe! As a friend shared with me today, to be “in Christ” is to be in the Word. John 15:15 has Jesus saying, “all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you”. How cool is that?
I feel as though a page has turned and I’m able to see a bit more on how I am able to know more of God. I guess it seems obvious that the way to know God better is to read the Bible, but I think I have just avoided the self-discipline needed to really do so and preferred He just give me the Cliffs Notes version or a one-liner; bada-bing! A struggle I’ve come to recently realize in the last couple of years is that I know about Jesus, but don’t know Jesus. I began to pray that I would learn to know Him and I imagine this process that’s unfolding is just a sliver of the answer to that prayer. How do you hear from the Holy Spirit? Has the Word of God come alive to you and reminded you of His promises?

That’s Not Fair!

There are numerous issues that stump people when they wonder about a powerful and loving God or are questioning the Christian faith. Some have major and valid questions, like why He allows such awful things to happen if He’s so loving, etc. Being a bit of an over-thinker myself has led me to question these things and many more as I moved forward in my faith. One of my largest faith struggles has been that although I know I am very sinful, I struggle with the idea that we are deserving of hell for it. I feel a bit nervous even typing it because I feel like everyone else that “gets” the Gospel doesn’t question that idea and that I shouldn’t either. All the time I hear that we should be extremely grateful that Jesus died for our sins and that He saved us from hell. I am amazed and thankful He did that for us, but my basic question that has bothered me is, “I can try my very best to be perfect and not sin, but I’ll never be able to help it completely, so why would I get in trouble for that and get such an awful punishment as hell?” It doesn’t seem fair and I find myself sometimes still getting hung up on it and feeling guilty that I don’t feel settled over it. This used to fester inside me and worry me that I wasn’t really understanding it like I should and feeding the worry that God sees me as a disappointment. A key part of my anxiety disorder is that I get stuck on a worry (or a memory, etc.) and dissect it to try and settle it or make it feel better; less guilty or uneasy. It usually just ends in mental exhaustion and irritability or sadness that I can’t fix it.

This question is one of many things I’ve been “stuck” on, but through prayer, asking lots of questions, listening, and time, I’ve found rest in the bigger picture on this issue and even within the last week, have learned more that has cleared the air for me even more. If this has ever crossed your mind, I hope this will be helpful. Here’s what I know: I’m a fat sinner and I ultimately can’t help it because it’s human nature.  I also have put my faith in the fact that God is so just and so perfect that He had to have the ultimate sacrifice in order to save us. Because our sin is the opposite of God’s majesty and perfection, He can’t tolerate it.”This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) YET, He understands!!

I’ve shared this verse before, but it was one of the first gifts of rest I received on this confusion and I still go back to it in relief:

“as far as the east is from the west,

so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

As a father shows compassion to his children,

so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

 For he knows our frame;

he remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103: 12-14

In the Old Testament we see that God gave the commandments to Moses of what our internal and external behaviors should be like.  People continued to sin and some recognized their inability to even coming close to meeting those demands and then they had to use an animal sacrifice to atone for or represent the cleansing that is needed for their sins.  God did this on purpose in order for us to clearly see that we can NOT do it perfectly. Over and over, humans failed and yet God showed compassion to those that repented.

The predictions and prophecies of the Messiah coming were promised in the Old Testament and when Jesus did come, He did the ultimate cleansing for our sins; once and for all. He loves us enough that He did that. I don’t understand why because we can be ugly and mean sometimes, but He sees us as his children and He asks us to trust in Him. Although this is probably clear to most believers, here’s a very important piece that I just learned this past week: We will be held accountable and risk hell for eternity if we choose to deny Christ, not simply because of our sins. I’ve been so caught up in whining over why our impossible-to-control sin life is being judged, but it is instead our choice that will be the final verdict. It is the choice that He gives us (we’re not robots), but if we choose not to accept Him, where we spend eternity is also chosen.  I am very thankful that God loves me enough to rescue me and promise me eternal life; a forever of bliss, joy, and beauty, even though I don’t understand many of His ways. I’m probably even more thankful that He is compassionate and patient with us.

I think it is vastly important to think on the questions and doubts we have. We are allowed to have them and ask them of both God and our friends and loved ones. Although I know there’s more involved with this part of my faith and I want to learn more, God asks that we recognize our sinful nature and see that we are in need of someone else to help us with it and rescue us from it.  If He gives us the opportunity to hear Him and put our trust in Him and yet we turn away (not feeling like we need it, busy living, not bothering to dig a little to be sure of it’s validity), then the only alternative is the opposite of finding shelter in God, which is eternity far, far away from Him.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Emily

I’m in the midst of reading Tim Keller’s book called, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God. I’m enjoying it because it’s both speaking down to my level on this sometimes tough topic and doesn’t sugarcoat what prayer can be “in just three easy steps”. One piece Keller addresses is how The Lord’s Prayer, as it was intended by Jesus, can be a guide for our own prayers as simple humans. As I’ve been reading I keep thinking, “Aha! My pastor must have read this book!” because we were emphasizing The Lord’s Prayer in church for a while where we took the basic outline of the prayer and filled in or elaborated with what that realistically looks like in our current world and community. To me, this practice in corporate worship has given it meat and more substance than we stereotypically give it since it’s become a rote memory version for many people. This prayer came directly from Jesus Christ in response to the question of how to pray. It’s not long, yet is deep and covers a lot of ground. Keller says, “Prayer in all its forms-adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and petition-reorients your view and vision of everything.”

I’ve written on my struggles with prayer in a previous post, and one of the refreshing and encouragingly honest reminders I read was that prayer is often hard work and that we should do it even when we don’t feel like it. Keller says, “We sometimes have to wrestle even in order to pray. We often wrestle in prayer just to concentrate” and he quotes Austin Phelps (nineteenth-century theologian): “When those hours of the day come in which we should be having our prayer sessions with God, it often appears as though everything has entered into a conspiracy to prevent it.”

Not only have I found it challenging to establish consistent quiet time, but I have also felt like I rarely “hear” from God (at least not like I’ve been thinking I should). When I do pray through the day or sometimes write out my prayers, I’ve been focusing on specific people that need help, circumstances, etc., but often about how to best use my time or I’ve asked to be guided by Him on decisions and how I can both glorify and rest in Him. I also spend a lot of time asking God to help me see how He loves me, to settle my mind and heal the broken parts that alter my thinking and outlook. With all of that asking, I have been hoping to really sense direction or “hear” it in my mind, so when it doesn’t come like I think it should or as often as I think it should, I bop around in a bit of doubt, frustration, and loneliness. However, I was reflecting recently on my frustration with myself and God on this issue of prayer and wrote this in my journal:

“I’m finding myself upset with God because I don’t think He’s making himself evident or close to me, but my definition of Him being accessible is that I would also feel good each time; giddy and peaceful, knowing He’s there. That can’t always be the case though, I wouldn’t think. How do I feel uneasy or unsettled inside, but also sense God? I don’t know. But, I don’t want to have a silly expectation that frustrates me with God and even possibly miss Him in other ways He reaches out to me.”

Realizing that I have misguided expectations was good for me. I’m hoping it will continue to help me let go of the efforts to try and pray just the right way in order to get Him to hear me. It doesn’t work like that. He does hear us. I have just recently seen encouraging reminders of that, too. After a rather honest journal/prayer entry about my frustrations, I ended it with, “I want you to change and heal me. I also want you to blow me away with supernatural direction or insight; to have certainty that you hear me or want to use me in some way. I know that doesn’t have to be spectacular, but I guess I want and desire affirmation from you that my issues and struggles aren’t for naught.”

A couple weeks after writing that, I was honored with the opportunity to encourage a dear friend’s child who is having an incredibly tough time with anxiety. Although his mother is one of my favorite friends and is devoted, loving, and tender, she couldn’t relate to many of his obsessive worries. I could though and I knew how his little brain was wracked with icky thoughts. I have had enough “practice” of my own with it to send him encouragement and tips that have helped me find rest along the way. I feel like God gave me just the right words, too. You should have heard his response and gratefulness! What a joyful treat it was for me to feel as though I have finally been able to use my own mess to bless another. I feel like God heard my prayer and that He gave me a gift of encouragement, too. Even though I had tangible evidence that He heard me in that situation, the truth is that He always hears us.

Tim Keller, using the wisdom of John Calvin as inspiration, says, “Cry, ask, and appeal-you will get many answers. Finally, where you do not get an answer, or where the answer is not what you want, use prayer to enable you to rest in his will.” He also directly quotes Calvin as writing, “Though cast down and overcome by true humility, we should be nonetheless encouraged to pray by a sure hope that our prayer will be answered.” 

I hope this can serve as an encouragement to you that even though it may seem as though you’re not being heard or if you’re feeling frustrated with God or worried you’re not good enough for Him and avoid prayer as a result, our prayers are not empty or unheard.  Ask Him to help you to pray and KEEP GOING. Tell Him everything and be open to the many ways He may respond, whether it be His word, others around you, opportunities, etc. You are heard and can rest in that truth.

Cry Baby

Last week I had the privilege of presenting the 8th grade awards to my students that are graduating and moving on to high school. As is the case with most graduations, especially at a small school, there are adorable and sentimental photos put together in a video with tender music. I knew this was coming and I tend to get a bit choked up over things like this, even if I’ve never seen the kid in my life. One of the songs chosen was the “I may need to go in the corner and ugly cry” song by Nicole Nordeman called Slow Down, and it’s been sweeping social media to make all mothers everywhere cry and hug their kids. So, there I went…thinking about my sweet children (one who had just earned his awards for 2nd grade and moving on to be a big 3rd grader), feeling the tears, and trying to hush them because, guess what? I was up next to speak!

I was not expecting to cry even a little bit as I presented these awards. It was my first year teaching at this school and there were many others who have been there to watch these great kids grow from tiny toddlers to teenagers. I expected tears from them for sure, but I thought I’d be safe! As I got to the end of the awards, I reinforced what a teacher in the elementary school had shared in her awards presentation, and that was the truth that we are not able to be perfect. We will make mistakes and what served as an extra special reminder for my students is that they may not be able to have perfection with their grades. I then began to share one of my favorite bible verses from Zephaniah 3:17 that says: 

The Lord your God is in your midst,

a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;

he will quiet you by his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing.

As soon as I started reading it, I had a great deal of difficulty getting the words out over my crying and after reflecting on it, I think it was because I felt as though I were really reading it to my own heart; to know that He feels that way about me, too. I reminded those kids (and myself it seems) that He is proud of them and that they are a delight to Him. 

Sometimes (quite often really), I struggle with believing He finds joy in me and is proud of me. I tend to beat up on myself more than I’d like and feel like a disappointment, but I do try to work on it. My counselor has shared that most mornings he wakes up and says to God, “I love you, too”. Just saying that can reinforce what is true about the way God views his children; that He loves us very much. Verses like the one mentioned above are gentle, sweet reminders that He loves us despite our inability to do everything right. Here’s another one that encourages me:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,

so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

As a father shows compassion to his children,

so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

For he knows our frame;

he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:11-14

The last line is my favorite. It’s important to remember that we are big, fat sinners and have absolutely no shot at being perfect, but He knows that. He has compassion on us and knows we can’t help it. He despises sin, but doesn’t despise us. That doesn’t mean he gives us free reign or encourages us to YOLO with our sin and not repent and confess it. It’s encouraging to know that He is pleased when I aim to glorify Him with my actions, but when I don’t and then I recognize that, He’s not shaking His head in shame or disappointment. I’d like to think He’s lifting my chin in tenderness. So, although I feel a bit embarrassed that I lost my ability to keep it together on stage in front of the audience, it was a sweeping reminder to me that we are all loved way more than we can comprehend. I hope I can keep reminding myself of this when I really need to hear it. It blows my mind really and that can tap dance in doubt some over how crazy it seems that each tiny little human matters to Him. But, that’s what faith is. It’s trusting in something much bigger than us and holding tight to His promises. 

Why are you breathing today?

I had someone recently ask me why I used the tag line, “Why are we breathing today?” on my blog header. My first response was that it ties into the mystery that inspired the main title, “Life Is So Curious…” Why are we here? How does it all work? I also realized that it’s two-fold; I want people to wonder why and how they were created which could then make them dig a bit and find hope in a Creator, but I also want to encourage other believers with the reminder that God has us still here on Earth for a specific reason. How is He using you? How is He stretching or pruning you? How is He helping and loving others through you? And like I mentioned in my last post, are we using our time here wisely?

I don’t imagine He creates us and then forgets about us for chunks of time (although it does feel like that to me sometimes…). We’re not like the plants on the back porch that we keep forgetting to water. He’s purposeful and all-knowing. He is not constrained by time and space. He knows you.

I often forget and need this reminder to keep me going and to approach life with my head up. Do you? I hope you know that you are loved and valued, whether you feel like it or not; whether you sense it from others or not. I know how scary life can feel. It’s encouraging to me to think about life in a different way and to consider that I’m here today to do something specific. It may be to simply speak kind or patient words to someone I talk to during my day, to look my son in the eyes to tell him how much I love being his mommy, or quite frankly, it may be a day for me to cling to Him every other minute because I feel awful or frightened. I don’t like to think that there’s any good in lousy times like that, but by asking Him, “what do you want me to do in this?” or “how can I glorify You today?”, I can seek purpose. It may feel like you have to drag yourself through the day or force the prayer out of your mouth, but I want to hope that He is proud of us when we try. Here’s a quote I love by an author named Angela Thomas: “I am going forward even when I cannot see. My worries are becoming trampled under the feet of my obedience. I sense the pleasure God takes in this offering.”

I just recently completed a bible study series by Matt Chandler with my 8th grade students and something that stuck with me was his reminder that, “God knows it’s scary to be us.” I’m so glad to hear that. Sometimes I tell Him that it’s scary down here and that I wish Jesus would come back already. But all in good time, I guess. In the meantime, I will keep at this life, not simply because I don’t have any other choice, but because I want to make the best of this time while remembering that this is not all there is. 

Why Do I Believe What I Believe?

Through a combination of my stubbornness, fears, striving, and doubt, I have done my fair share of questioning. One of my favorite quotes that someone shared with me that has stuck is: “Doubt is the soil of faith”. It’s given me a sigh of relief to know that it’s ok for me to dig around and challenge my faith a bit. My anxiety has gone through the roof at times over worry about how little I am and how overwhelming life seems to be; wanting to know the purpose behind it all. I’ve wanted proof to know that I’m safe and that there really is a big God that loves me.

Life is big. HUGE, really. I am truly amazed at how easy it is for us humans to live life without much thought to the greater meaning behind it or how the heck we even came to be. It’s just so natural to think about ourselves and creating as delightful a life as possible. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this struggle that I imagine many may not think about much at all. As one of my favorite friends Nikki told me when we were young, “you think too much!” Oh, how true that is!

So, with all of the wonderings I’ve had, it’s led me to think about why I believe and put my trust in the Jesus of the Bible. As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s becoming less and less “cool” to be a Christian; Kelly Minter says in her women’s bible study called What Love Is, “I know it’s avant garde to hold nebulous beliefs that are open ended and that allow for pretty much whatever is comfortable for you and the people around you. But the Christian faith is preciously more defined than that. And this is actually wonderful news.” I want to be confident if there ever comes a time for me to defend my beliefs and most importantly, to know deeply why I’m safe in this big, big world.

Although I think I’m at a much more confident place in my faith, that doesn’t mean I don’t get waves of doubt that still come my way when something awful happens in life. That’s unavoidable. But it helps when I can recall the things that make the doubt less than the clear truths. Now, mind you these are not fancy pants, technically-written reasons like that of an apologist, but just rather some of my top reasons for relief in knowing there’s more to this life and what that means for me.

Here is my list of reasons why I believe what I believe:

1. Historical evidence of Jesus’ presence on Earth. Even non-Christians of the time (Thallus, 52AD and several others) wrote about this man from Nazareth that did miraculous things.

2. History that lines up with biblical recordings and the craziness of how many prophecies that have come to pass from the Old Testament.

3. The bible itself is an astounding book that weaves one greater story in it from start to finish. The way things line up like they do, it would be impossible for someone to make it up.

4. There is evil in this world. No one can deny the atrocities that have stormed the globe over the span of history. I don’t think you can have evil without good. There’s something bigger than us if we’re able to feel and act on both ends of this spectrum.

5. Every popular tv show with mediums/psychics, stories of witchcraft, etc. Although some is clearly just for show, I have no doubt some spooky revelations are going down, too. This makes me believe there’s a bigger war, so to speak, going on in an unseen world. It doesn’t make sense for us to dismiss a bigger creator or mystery if these things occur.

6. Miracles…the man who died and came back to share about it, the numerous healings or the almost-too-amazing-to-be -true stories from all over the world.

7. Muslims that have seen Jesus in their dreams or had their own unexplainable revelations that have led them to risk their lives and their families in order to devote their lives to Christ.

8. If I believe that Jesus really was alive and did some of the things that it’s historically proven he did, then that opens up a whole category of things I then can’t help but believe: he quoted the Old Testament and made numerous startling claims about who He is and why He came.

9. The apostles that followed Him, even after doing their fair share of doubting or denying before he was crucified, completely devoted their lives to declaring His name after Jesus was resurrected and revealed Himself to not only them, but hundreds of others. Many of these disciples died horrible deaths themselves and all the while continued to share the Good News of the Gospel until their last breath. Who does that unless they really, truly saw what they saw?

10. I am a mother. I’ve experienced the sheer joy of holding my babies. How is this possible if there is not a greater Being alive and active in this life? How does a creature like us, with the intricate details of our brain, emotions, moral compass already instilled, how are we possibly created without a Creator? If then there’s a Creator, then how can he possibly not be connected with all we know about the man Jesus that was certainly alive on our planet?

I’m sure there are a million more reasons, but these jump out to me and often soothe my fears. I came to the conclusion several years ago that I either believe it, or I don’t. The facts stack up pretty high and the arguments against faith in Christ are just too weak. It does seem to actually take more effort to disbelieve. The problem I think that’s plaguing us is that many are not giving it enough thought in order to make a real decision that’s not based solely on previous experiences (i.e. what you heard in your childhood, stereotypes of Christians, etc.) What do you believe happens after you die? Are you confident of why you believe it?

The ever nagging question…Why?

Heartache is everywhere. Sometimes it seems like it’s lurking around the corner and one never knows when it’s going to hit. 2014 was a pretty good year for me and one I can look back on fondly for the most part (health, my brain not a complete mess, great school year for my son, work growth for my husband, new baby girl!). However, I can name several families who were hit by heartache and will feel the effects for a long time to come. Terrible tragic deaths have happened within my community and beyond. Just even hearing about them makes your stomach sink and stirs your heart with sympathy…or anger and frustration. Do you ever feel that way? Angry that something terrible happens and that someone is hurting like they are? Just in the past year I can think of families broken by suicide, murders, sickness, and tragic deaths. Why do these things happen?

As a Christian who does put hope in the fact that God is intimately aware of every single thing that happens in our individual lives, heartache tends to make me feel frustrated with God’s plan and have some doubt. I decided several years ago that I had to make the choice to either believe He is who He says He is, or not. I decided there are way too many examples of His activity in people’s lives and way too much historical evidence to believe otherwise. But, hurting hearts still make me uncertain as to what He’s doing and why. I want to know how someone tragically losing a child or spouse is ultimately better for having experienced it.

Philip Yancey has written a book called, “The Question That Never Goes Away: Why?” that I look forward to reading this year because it, as have other books by Yancey, addresses this ongoing struggle of pain in our world and trusting in a loving God. I do know there won’t be an ultimate answer that we’ve all been looking for because there isn’t one, but what it does do is remind us that everyone is struggling with this, whether that’s through personal experience, witnessing others’ hurts, or living fearful of heartache. I can relate to all three because I still question why my brain works the way it does as I struggle with anxiety, have seen and heard of many others deeply hurting, and worry about what heartache may be around the bend for me.

When heartache interrupts our lives (because most of us are busy trying to live the good life and makes things pleasant; “waiting for the weekend” mentality), it stops us and gives us the brief reality check on the preciousness of life and also serves as a reminder that we are NOT in charge. We do NOT ultimately decide whether we or our loved ones will take their next breath. Scary to consider? Stay with that feeling. If we are that helpless then we don’t also want to be hopeless. That’s where the hope of Christ enters in.

Chasing my own tail

Do you continue to do what you don’t want to do and not keep up with things you do want to do?

Hoping that’s not just me and doubt it is. Thankfully, it’s somewhat encouraging to read that the Apostle Paul said in Romans 7:18-20,  “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

I want to be many things: tidy and organized, gentle, patient and encouraging with my students and family, passionate about my faith, spending less time wasting my time (i.e. Facebook, etc.), and the thing that bugs me the most that I can’t seem to get the hang of is quiet time to learn, grow, and know God.

I want to be quiet and really hear from God. I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve really sensed that. Should it be more than that? Am I expecting too much? Looking for a dramatic experience? Am I just not made that way and others are able to sense Him more clearly? Doing something wrong? Is He irritated with me that I don’t do a better job? These are the questions that continue to come to mind when I get frustrated that I don’t “feel” Him more. But do I really devote the time to hear Him? Not really. I want to and have tried to get into a habit, but don’t stick with it. I pray through the day here and there and do go to Him when I struggle or when others come to mind and I pray for them. It just doesn’t seem like it’s enough or that I’m good enough. Are my insecurities starting to shine through? yikes.

It’s gotten to a point where I try and carve out some time to be quiet, but I don’t even know what to do with myself. I tend to be on the mild side of the technology craze that has many glued to a device at every stop light, but can still connect with the discomfort that can come from just trying to be quiet. What do I read? How long? Do I follow a formula, like the ACTS prayer? Geez, I can see how I want it to be just perfect, but that’s obviously not realistic. He gets me. “He’s mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). I did just feel a bit of relief at that reminder.

I remember a bible study I did with some friends many years ago and there was reference to a well-respected Christian leader that would make himself set aside 20 minutes in a prayer closet. If he went in and was distracted a 1,001 times, so be it. He would give God what he could and continue to do that chunk of time. He realized after several weeks doing this that although he didn’t feel like it was productive, he eventually realized he was indeed praying and moving closer. It takes self-discipline that, especially for us Westerners, is more challenging than one might realize.

A former assistant pastor by the name of Ted Hamm, who left me with a few tidbits of spiritual advice while at my church, once said to “pray until you pray”. I can wrap my mind around that. It may not be what we think it should be or feel the way we hope it will, but we CAN make the choice to start and try to keep at it. Not in a legalistic way (that would add to my perfectionistic tendencies), but rather well aware of His compassion for us in knowing our weaknesses as humans.

I’ll end with a quote from one of my all-time favorite Christian authors, Phillip Yancey, that has helped with this struggle as a gentle reminder for us to keep at it: “When doubts creep in and I wonder whether prayer is a sanctified form of talking to myself, I remind myself that the Son of God, who had spoken worlds into being and sustains all that exists, felt a compelling need to pray. He prayed as if it made a difference, as if the time he devoted to prayer mattered every bit as much as the time he devoted to caring for people.”