An Altar Named Grief

     The last few months have been absolutely crazy. January and February were a whirlwind. I hope to update you all soon on some of the highlights of early 2019, my favorite of which was an impromptu trip to London, England! Today, I’d like to be vulnerable with you about a different kind of experience, a low. As some of you may know, my sister, Farnaz, recently lost her baby boy to be, Ezra. She’d just announced the pregnancy to the public. She was in her 16th week, in town visiting our family, when she started to feel really sick. Her doctor advised her to go to the ER. Later that night, she gave birth to a still, baby Ezra. The loss came as a complete shock to our family. She was doing so well and even better going into the second trimester. There was no doubt in our minds that this summer we’d be holding a brand new bundle of joy. That’s how some grief comes, suddenly and unexpectedly. The frailty of life is often unnoticed and even under-appreciated until loss demands your attention to it. Each moment seems an incoincidental miracle with loss as the perspective.

     Losing baby Ezra felt unreal, impossible. They say denial is one of the steps of grieving and maybe that’s what it was, but I think shock is more accurate. The presence of Ezra in our lives was so tangible, so real. The loss wasn’t about “what could’ve been”. I think that’s something people don’t understand when it comes to miscarriages. Sure, part of it is “I’ll never get to see him grow up”, but more than what could’ve been is what already was. As Christians, we should understand that babies are souls, their spirits are felt long before they are present outside of the womb. Baby Ezra, although only 16 weeks old, wasn’t just a wish for a future. His absence to us is not a denial of what could’ve been, it’s a loss of the hope and joy that the promise of his life already was. Babies, even in the womb, have spirits. They are present. They are felt. And so is their absence.

     One idea this process has led me to contemplate is how a Christian should grieve. I’ve never had a good grasp on how to lament. It’s not something that’s often taught. Grieving is a gruesome process we often forget about unless we’re the ones suffering. We all have different responses to sorrow based on who we are, the environment we’ve grown up in and how we’ve learned to process pain. My innate response to most emotions is to downplay the way I’m feeling. Being an INFJ (my personality-test junkies know what this means), I know that I’m all too in touch with the way I feel. In order to counteract that, I’ve developed a habit of depreciating emotions when they’re felt strongly. I’m in no way saying that this is healthy or the proper way to cope, but up until recently, this is what I’d been trained to do. I had a misunderstanding of feelings and of the heart.

     Hearts are not innately bad. Before you go quoting Jeremiah 17:9, hear me out. God has a heart (Gen. 6:6, 8:21). We know that God is perfect (Matt 5:48). How should a perfect being possess an imperfect vessel? He doesn’t. If we think of a heart as a vessel, housing whatever the keeper places in it, then we have a better understanding of the heart. In the scripture where Jeremiah calls the heart deceitful, he is talking to an idolatrous Israel who had given themselves to the lusts of gods apart from the One true God. The human heart is sinful according to the content allowed in by its keeper.  If we believe the gospel, we know that the blood of Jesus washes clean our hearts. A heart that is submitted to the law and spirit of God, a heart that is kept (Prov. 4:23), should not be ignored. Not all feelings are lies made by our deceitful hearts to steer us away from Truth. In fact, I believe it’s in the suppression of a pure, feeling heart, the neglecting and undermining of real emotions, that uglier seeds may grow. God made us to feel. He gave us hearts. It is not out-of-order for us to use them.

     Now, you may not have a problem with letting yourself feel things, but the above paragraph was for people like me that do. Other contemplations were: how long is it okay to grieve? What process should be used to grieve in a healthy manner? Truth be told, anyone that gives you a step-by-step process of how one should grieve is overconfident in their understanding of heartbreak. There is no science to grieving. Just as no two people are the same, no two hearts feel or cope in the same way. With that being said, there are WRONG ways to grieve. Some of these include avoidance, repression, projection and all the other defense mechanisms Freud named as means to running away from problems. While I can’t tell you the right way for you to grieve, I can talk to you about the ways I’ve found most useful for me. I can also share a couple of resources, besides scripture, that I’ve found useful:  A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis and “God’s School of Pain” by Bro. Raymond Woodward (links to both will be at the conclusion of this blog).

     Lately, I’ve been worshiping at a different altar than I’m used to. This altar’s name is Grief. Many who have grieved know that it often comes in waves. You feel it. You go through it, or rather it goes through you. You feel better and then after a little while, you feel it again. I’m not sure why it happens this way. Maybe God knew that it’d be too overwhelming for us to bear the weight of sorrow all at once, so He built us to grieve in currents. Whatever the case, when I start to feel the currents rise, as the waves start crashing, my process has been the following:

  1. Thanking God – I start most of my prayers this way. It’s something I was taught to do.

Psalms 100:4

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.

     My natural inclination with prayer is to repent first. In the presence of Perfection, I can’t stand my juxtaposing sinfulness. However, rather than walking into His presence ashamed of who I am, I think God prefers that I enter acknowledging who He is. Praise, sacrifice, looks different at an altar named Grief. It’s less circumstantial. It’s independent of any subject besides God. At other altars, we may thank God for the things He’s blessed us with or the people we’re surrounded by. Grief allows us to praise God just for who He is. In grief, when it’s hard to be thankful for where God’s placed you, it becomes easy to appreciate who God is, instead. In the aforementioned sermon by Bro. Raymond Woodward, he says, “Don’t let what’s wrong with you keep you from worshiping what’s right with God”. Despite everything that can be wrong with us, everything is always right with God. It does us good to acknowledge this when we least feel to. This is a true “sacrifice of praise”, a laying down of “I” for an increase of “He” (Psalms 49:14, John 3:30). This is costly. This is the building of an altar named Grief.

Psalm 51:8

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.

     2. Inviting God Into My Grief – During this time, I haven’t asked God to take away my grief. To me, that would be an insult to the one I was grieving. Scripture even tells us that there is “a time to mourn” (Eccl. 3:4).  I loved Ezra, even if just shortly. I anticipated getting to be his aunt. Grief, loss, is the price we pay for all earthly relationships. As Douglas Gresham writes in the intro to A Grief Observed, “all human relationships end in pain— it is the price that our imperfection has allowed Satan to exact from us for the privilege of love…the greater the love the greater the grief”. Some wages are paid sooner than others, yet for all, the time for separation will come. To take the grief, you’d have to take the love with it. Instead, whether I’m on the couch or in my bed, sometimes I even like to sit on the floor, I ask God to join me. In John 14:16, Jesus alludes to the Holy Spirit as “the Comforter”. The Greek word used in these scriptures, paráklētos, translates to “summoned, called to one’s side”. The word “com-fort” originates from Latin, meaning with strength. In my brokenness, I don’t want forced wholeness, I just want my Comforter at my side, with strength. I find this strength, this Comforter, at my altar named Grief.

Matthew 5:4

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

     3. Giving God My Heart – Heartbreak is a reality of life. In our humanity, we often associate brokenness with inadequacy, inferiority and weakness. No one wants to be broken. We want to be whole, untouched by life. Yet, our frail humanity is keen to breaking. Whether figuratively or literally, we’re all broken. Some of us are just better at hiding it. I, in myself, am and will always be broken. Now, please don’t get me wrong. God didn’t make me broken. My sin, the sin of those around me, seasons of separation from God and sometimes just the unavoidable tragedy of life has left its mark on my heart.  While the scars heal, as long as I’m human, I’ll always be broken. My awareness of that brokenness fluctuates depending on how dependent I’ve been on my own strength. It’s both ironic and beautiful that my acknowledgement of my brokenness goes hand in hand with allowing God to make me whole. Christianity is, after all, the stride towards wholeness. A pace we never stop until we’ve met eternity. Until I’m rid of this flesh, I will continue to break and crack, hoping never to cut anyone in the process of being made whole. May we never forget that we’re broken creatures continually being put back together by God.

     Losing baby Ezra broke my heart, the place I’d made for him. I hadn’t talked to many people about my excitement, but I’d slowly built a space in my heart for him. I’d dreamed it and hoped it and planned it and kept it. It was his space. The realization that that space would be left void, the unbalanced equilibrium, the emptiness of unrequited love caused the walls to collapse. The walls in the corridors of our heart are not always made solid. They’re as sure as we believe them to be. I believed in baby Ezra. I had built strength in the love that I was preparing for him. The more I built, the more it hurt when the weight of all that came crashing down. It’s in these times we need God to come in, to rebuild. In these situations He doesn’t take away what’s been built, but restructures it in a way that maintains the integrity of the heart. At an altar named Grief, God reshapes and repairs my heart.

Psalm 147:3

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

 

     4. Asking to Know Him – I’ve asked God to use this to help me understand Him better.

 

Philippians 3:10

That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death;

“The fellowship of His sufferings”, that’s not a part of the verse that’s often accentuated, yet it’s a very important part. Christ suffered. He was “a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief”(Isaiah 53:3). He hurt. As already mentioned, those who love often do. We Christians are called to this kind of love. If I am to know Him, I must not only know “the power of His resurrection” but also “the fellowship of His sufferings”. Grief brings us to an understanding of Jesus, the way He loves and the way He hurts. At an altar named Grief, we’re afforded a seat at His table, where we learn to know Him in “the fellowship of His sufferings”.

“If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came.”

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

     5. Trusting in His Sovereignty – The story-making predilection of humanity likes to think of events in sequential a to b, cause-effect order. But the reality is that things happen, sometimes for no understandable reason. We’re not always in control of why or what happens. We can only control how we choose to move forward. Something I’ve chosen not to do at my altar named Grief is to ask God why it happened. I have not looked for answers. When you love truly, no justification can ever satisfy the reason for that love being taken away. You can’t reason with love. Love understands no limits, sees no impossibilities. Rather than reasoning, I chose to trust in God’s sovereignty. Another quote by Bro. Woodward that beautifully depicts this kind of trust is: “Faith is trusting God’s heart even when you can’t see His hand.” Faith is essential to surviving grief. I despise analogies that allude to God as a schoolmaster “testing” us with hardships. As Lewis says, “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t.” (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed). We learn the quality of our faith through hardship. God has led me through things that I don’t understand and some I might never understand. My understanding isn’t the important part, continuing to be led is. At an altar named Grief, doubt and questioning are sacrificed and in their place, faith is planted. Trust is established.

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

     My hope is that this blog is a resource to those also in the “fellowship of His sufferings”. Through the building of this altar, Grief, God has taught me so much about faith, life and my own heart. In grief, eternity comes all too close, yet still too far to reach. It’s a hard process. It’s a knock-the-wind-out-of-you kind of pain, the kind that can only be comforted in the presence of an almighty God all too acquainted with sorrow. But in the building process of an altar named Grief, comes a closer walk with God, a humble surrendering.

“…the thing is to rely only on God. The time will come when you will regard this misery as a small price to pay for having been brought to that dependence.”

C.S. Lewis

 

Link to “God’s School of Pain” by Bro. Woodward:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HABGnnGoMn4

Link to purchase “A Grief Observed” by C. S. Lewis: 

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/grief-observed-c-s-lewis/1100616072#/

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New Day, New Me

        As we get into the second week of 2019, I’ve found myself reflecting on the significance of a new year. A new year represents so many things to so many people, but  to most all, a new year signifies hope. Hope for improvement. Hope for long-awaited dreams to come true. Hope for more. This more is not necessarily a greedy or discontent more, but a desire for continued growth and development. This desire is to be, do and live more. A new year can also be overwhelming. While there’s this desire for more, there’s also the begging question of how to get to more. How do I make this year different from the last? What do I do differently from years passed? This is where New Year’s Resolutions come into the picture.

       Every year, people contemplate the things in their lives they should change in order to be better. According to wikipedia,

“A New Year’s Resolution is a tradition, most common in the Western Hemisphere but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere, in which a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behavior.”

We “resolve to change [our] undesired trait[s]”. We look in the mirror and think “I could lose/gain a couple pounds”. We look in the fridge and think “the last time I ate a vegetable was on a supreme pizza”. We look at our Bible app and realize we’re a whopping 30 days off that 365 day journey we were set on completing. We take inventory of our lives, our goals and achievements, our shortcomings and calculate how we can make up the difference between who we are and who we’d like to be. We hope. We dream. And after the hoping and dreaming, we decide to do.

       Some people “do” by setting goals for the new year. Others mock the idea of New Year’s Resolutions. Personally, I prefer the former to the latter. Although New Year’s Resolutions are known for their extensive failing rates, there’s something special about people planning to be better. I believe New Year’s Resolutions can be successful when we let God have control of the goals we want to make on the way to becoming the person He wants us to be. The Bible talks about God-given goals as visions in Habakkuk:


Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.

Habakuk 2:2 ESV


This verse sounds inspiring  when we’re thinking of the fulfillment of the vision. That’s until we realize the amount of discipline it takes to make the vision come to pass. The truth of the matter is, visions take work. Visions take investment of time and resources. This being the case, I’ve compiled a list of questions to ask yourself about 2019’s vision(s):

  1. Was the vision inspired by God?

The prophet Habakkuk in the aforementioned verse is referencing a God-given vision. #1 is a simple question that can easily be over complicated, but doesn’t have to be. Ask yourself, did you talk to God before deciding on the vision? Does your vision align with the Biblical principles of who He wants His people to be? Will the vision bring you closer to Him and His likeness? If this answer is a no-brainer, then move onto #2; however, if you find your vision is not inspired by desires God has given you, reconsider the vision.

2. Is the vision plain?

Did you take the time to clarify the vision? Once you identify the vision, once you hear from God, you must “make it plain”. This is in order to refine the parameters of the change you wish to make. When the vision is made plain, when there’s no room for loopholes or miscommunications, you have a clear goal you can “write” down.

     3. Where is the vision written?

This question might seem redundant to #2 but once the vision has been made plain, it is essential for the vision to be written. Where are you writing your vision? Is it on your phone’s notepad, soon to be forgotten in the excitement of the new year, never to be seen again until you’re restarting this process in 2020? Write it somewhere you’re not able to forget it. Write it on the mirror you look into every morning, the background of your phone, or if you have to, repeat it so often that it’s written on your heart. Writing the vision is essential to your intentional remembrance and its intentional fulfillment.

     4. Do you read your vision?

What is the point of a vision you have so carefully discerned, if you don’t take the time to “read” it everyday? The Greek word for read in this verse is qara’ (kaw-raw’) which means to call, call out, recite, read, cry out or proclaim. Read your vision to God. If He gave it to you, remind him of it every single day. Call it out to Him and ask Him to help you see it come to pass.

    5. Is it a vision you can run to?

The implication of running here is that the vision elicits a form of excitement so inspiring that it makes one run in its direction. Does the vision inspire you? Is it bigger than you can achieve in a year? If you’re dreaming correctly, it should be. Is it far enough away that you have to run every day in order to make it? If it’s not, if it’s a casual walk down the road to better, then perhaps go back to #1. The visions that God gives us are, by design, bigger than we can accomplish on our own for the simple reason that we’re not expected to achieve them by our power, but through His.

       The vision you have for 2019 may pass each of these questions and yet you remain doubtful in remembrance of failed visions of 2018. You’d asked God. You’d written the vision. You’d read it. You’d run….then you’d slowed down. Perhaps you got tired or distracted. You recognized your breath slowing with your pace and before you knew it, your sprint to better had become a casual stroll, the vision a far away dream, too idyllic to ever be true. What does this scripture say about failing the vision?


For still the vision awaits its appointed time;

   it hastens to the end—it will not lie.

If it seems slow, wait for it;

   it will surely come; it will not delay.

Habakuk 2:3 ESV


God-given visions do not fail. Be encouraged that if God has given you a vision it will surely come. In 2018, God may have given you a vision, but perhaps 2018 was not its appointed time. In this scripture, we’re asked to write, read, run and finally, to wait. This waiting should not be plagued with fear of what’s to come but an assurance that the vision God has given you will not delay.

       The concluding advice I will give about this new year and the person you resolve to be in it is something I’ve mentioned before:

Be better today than you were yesterday.

I personally believe that is the key to success and sanity. Too often, we find huge goals we try to accomplish in too small amounts of time. I am for dreaming big. As I previously mentioned, we should dream bigger than we’re able to achieve, but in this dreaming should be the understanding that the realization comes one day at a time, every day getting us closer than we were yesterday. It is January of 2019. You have an idea of how you want the year to go and the things you want to accomplish. This is good. But please remember,

Don’t try to conquer the whole year, just conquer today.

Dream big. Step small.

Be consistent.

Trust God.

Omnipresent

As a child,

I longed to find someplace

that was solely

and completely mine.



As an adult,

I’ve come to know

the place I never knew.

I’ve always been, I’m always

still searching

for You.



You are solely mine,

solely his,

solely hers,

completely ours.



I marvel at the complexity

of a God that can be

all things

in all places

to all people

but One.
You are all,


You are One.

I am a Poet

      Too often, we fear to make declarations about ourselves. For when we do, we are held accountable to BE what we declare. And not only to be, but to be it well. I‘ve always been of the opinion that if I do something, I’d better do it well or not at all. Even as I’m writing, I’d like to somehow qualify the statement “I am a poet” to lower your expectations of what you are about to read. But I’ve decided I’m tired of qualifications. Read and judge it as you will. I am a poet.


Po·et

ˈpōət/

noun

a person who writes poems


      I became a poet my freshman year of college. I’ve always had an appreciation for well written words and well thought out phrases, but it took years for me to gain the courage to write. One autumn day, when my psych professor was droning on about the anatomy of the brain, something sparked within me. I sat in the back corner of the room with the blank pages of my favorite journal and a mind racing with ideas. I thought about all I could say, all I wanted to communicate. Then suddenly, something clicked. I began writing about a love of mine, autumn.

     After what felt like ten or fifteen minutes, I was finished. I had written my poem. I was shocked at how easily the words had flown from my mind to the previously empty pages. A passion was stirred. Ideas were developed. Words were arranged. And a poem was the outcome. It wasn’t perfect or even exactly what I wanted to say; however, it was just what I needed: a start.

     Since my initial discovery, I have continued to write. To me, poetry is the acknowledgment and appreciation of the beauty of life. I am a poet. What follows is the first poem that made me one:


October 1st, 2014

Winds blow and leaves rustle as they dance along sidewalks,

The breezes flirting with the loose strands of my hair.

Familiar chills warm me as they travel down my spine,

Beckoning me to acknowledge

The utopia that surrounds me.

Autumn is here:

I am home.

The thrill of warm sweaters on cold nights is almost too much to bear.

A tranquil ecstasy floods my body, calling awake the attention of every cell.

My heart soars,

Becoming one with the wind and the leaves

Whole again, it whispers,

“There’s no place like home”.

Because of you, I am

Because of you

I love wildflowers.


For what else can grow

So indignantly

And undeniably

Beautiful

In the face

of everything

And everyone

That didn’t want it to?


Because of you

I know a woman

Can be as strong

as she is soft.


Because of you

I’ve learned

To be beautiful

Is to be kind.


Because of you

I see wildflowers

Where some may see weeds.


Because of you

I love

I know

I’ve learned

I see

I am.


Because of you.

Am I Living or Am I Alive?

The other day, I was looking through my laptop to find a picture for my dad’s birthday. Scrolling through several years of pictures, I came across this one. I paused and examined it closely. I smiled as I remembered that day. I remembered feeling so… free? I didn’t care about my frizzy hair or the oversized sweatshirt dress I was wearing.  I wouldn’t have cared if I’d mistakenly slipped into the riverbank. I didn’t worry what passersby would think about the scarf I’d fashioned into a cape… I was living.

I felt a sudden twinge of sadness. Where was that fearless girl? The one that laughed and sang in the river. The one that would risk a fall, if it meant getting to dance across the stones. The one that proudly wore the ugly brown sweater dress with duck boots and a Canada dad hat because that was what was comfortable for hiking. Where had she gone? When would she be back?

I think sometimes, in the chaos of being alive, we forget to live. I don’t mean that we literally stop living. We breathe in. We breathe out. Our hearts beat on. But we become … disengaged. It’s not hard to do. Life can be monotonous.

Wake up. Pray. Eat. School/Work. Eat. Gym. Shower. Eat. Read. Sleep. Repeat.

The cyclical nature of day-to-day life can become tedious, leaving us detached from our present world. We then live in obligation to our common routines, a sickness known as “going through the motions”.

Am I living or am I alive?

The word “alive” is an adjective, a descriptor, while “to live” is a verb, an action. One can be in the passive state of “alive” without actively living. Looking at that picture, I felt that twinge because I knew in my current state I hadn’t been living. I was doing most of the things I was supposed to, but with no passion or vigor. My simple Sunday night plea to you is:

Don’t get so busy being alive that you forget to live.

“Promise me

you will not spend

so much time

treading water

and trying to keep your

head above the waves

that you forget,

truly forget,

how much you have always

loved

to swim.”

-Tyler Knott Gregson

I Am The Weakest

This past fall, my family and I made an impromptu trip to NYC. We were vacationing on the sandy beaches of Virginia. On a whim, my sister expressed her desire to see “The Big Apple.” My parents asked us if we would like to leave a few days early to visit NYC. We excitedly agreed! NYC was both everything and nothing I expected. After being a beach bum in VA for a few days, the loud, crazy mess of NYC was quite the change of pace. We went from sunshine and warmth to grey and rainy in a matter of hours. Generally, New York seems to me an enigma. Having only spent one day there, I’ve just scratched the surface of her charm.

My conclusions on the city:

  • The traffic – it felt like I was in a foreign country. There were crazy drivers – everywhere. Rules – did they have any?
  • The smell – was it trash day??
  • The air – after a few hours my lungs felt weighed by the smog and grime of the subways, the cabs and people smoking on every corner.
  • The noise – the city pulses with a constant energy. There’s people everywhere, all hurrying somewhere. New York is ideal for people watching.
  • The community – while completely fragmented in some ways, there is a definite community amongst New Yorkers. The diversity creates an atmosphere filled with possibilities. While disjointed, they are unified. Through the hustle and bustle, through the noise, there is symmetry. One thing connects each individual in an undeniable way: their love for The City.

All in all, New York was a great experience.

In NYC, I met a man I will never forget. He was middle-aged, bald with a greying mustache. He had on an average looking suit, a green tie and what looked like hiking boots – a puzzling ensemble. My sister and I were sitting on the couches in our hotel lobby when he started asking us questions. He asked us where we were from, why we were in New York and for how long. Each question he asked, I followed up with a question of my own. When making small talk, the best way to keep from having to contribute to the conversation is asking questions (You introverts know what I’m talking about).

        It started out with sports. Upon hearing we’re from Ohio, he talked about the Cleveland Browns and how upset he was they’d beat his team, The Jets. It was 7am and we had been awake for maybe 15 minutes. With all the strength and politeness we could muster, we tried to listen and react. He seemed completely content with being the one to speak. So we let him. We responded at all the right times, only a word here and there, sometimes another question. When he realized he’d reached the limit of our football-related knowledge, he started asking about our lives.

        With each bit of information he gained, he added a bit about his kids. He told us about his son who was also in college. His son was a straight-A-student. He didn’t understand how.

“The kid’s an idiot.”

Beneath the humor, I sensed he was a proud father. I asked him about his other kids.

“I also have three girls.”

He ran through the line of his kids listing their ages. I noticed a strike of pain cross his face when mentioning his two older daughters. I asked what his eldest daughter, 23, wanted to do with her life.

“I have no idea.”

He explained that he hadn’t spoken to her in 2 years. There it was. The flicker of pain. He and his wife had split up. In the midst of the divorce she had told their daughter lies about him, trying to get her to side against him. They had a falling out where she expressed she never wished to speak to her father again. The man talked in a very casual manner – you could tell he was well-acquainted with this aged wound. He had come to some sort of acceptance. Still, flashing across his face just briefly, I saw the hurt.

          Not wanting to be intrusive, I asked about his other two daughters. The next one was 17. He expressed how he hadn’t been sure she would even make it to that age. He didn’t say what she’d gotten into, but I sensed that she had a drug problem. Again, the agony momentarily touched his face. Next was his 12-year-old. I was holding onto all hope – surely she had to be ok. She was. He assured with a hint of uncertainty. I sensed his anticipation that she, too, would grow to resent him. I saw the fear in his eyes as he talked about her. He spoke as if he was holding his breath, like, if he’d blink, she might be gone too. She was his last hope.

“And that’s my life story.”

Wow.

         We continued to make small talk, but my mind was working a mile a minute, trying to find the right words to say. I didn’t know how to help this hurting man. With every new topic, I wondered how I could transition the conversation to Jesus. This man needed Him desperately. With each passing moment, my heart was growing heavier. Here was a man whose life had fallen apart. What could I say? What could I do? Surely this man, being much older than I, did not care what I had to say about his situation. I remembered the pain that struck his face. I felt the same pang at the bottom of my chest. At that moment, my dad walked into the lobby and told my sister and I the car was out front. We told the man it was nice to meet him and left.

“He was a nice man.” My sister remarked.

“Ya.” I replied, thoughtful.

“I feel bad for him.” She said.

Me too.”

         I started to work through the conversation in my head. I thought through our dialogue. As he was talking, I was seeking a transition into the gospel. This man showed us his heart. I saw each cut, each scar, each wound. I knew the One Source that could cure it all. I waited for an opportune moment. It didn’t come. I felt ashamed, responsible. I started to bargain. Perhaps it wasn’t the right time. There wasn’t an opportunity.

“You should have made one” I thought.

Who was going to tell this man now? I felt a pang of conviction overcome me. I could have at least offered to pray with him, to pray for him. But I’d sat there, dumbstruck.

         I started to pray earnestly for this man. I prayed for his heart, that it would find God. For He is close to the broken hearted (Psalm 34:18).

“God be close to him. Meet him in his brokenness. Minister to his pain.”

I prayed for his marriage, that there’d be peace. I prayed for his eldest daughter, that there’d be reconciliation. I prayed for each of his kids and their relationship with him. Desperately, I cried out for him.

“God, let him discover you and communion with You in prayer. Let prayer revolutionize his life. Let him become new in You”.

        As my faith increased, I pictured this man’s life changed. I imagined all God could do for him and in him. Next, I asked God for forgiveness. Perhaps I had missed my opportunity to minister to this man. But I believed in these prayers. I trusted God would take care of it.

I had faith my prayers could touch the wounds my words could no longer reach.

Lastly, I resolved to forgive myself. I felt such shame, such utter disappointment. I ran through the long list of reasons I was associating myself with the missed opportunity.

Faithless. Hypocrite. Over-Calculated.

Every spiritual success faded out of existence as I focused on this one failure. Then I remembered one thing: God doesn’t need me.

        God longs to work with us to accomplish His will. He desires to use us, but at the end of the day, we are just vessels. If not me, He is able to use any other. God knows we are imperfect beings. So many times, we have opportunities to minister to the hurting, the broken. Too often we miss them. Too often I miss them. And afterwards, I beat myself up for it. I have to remind myself: Although God desires to work with me, He does not need me. He does not rely on me. While I am completely dependent on Him, He is completely independent of me. There’s something to say about desire without necessity. He doesn’t need us, but He wants us.

         I want to be used of Him. I desire to work with Him. But more than that, I need Him. It dawned on me recently, the utter dependence of a Christian. Some consider Christians to be “perfect”, the “good ones”. And maybe some of you are close, but I am far from it. My faith is based on my desperate need for God. I don’t just want God. I need Him. If I start to think of a Godless life, I could hyperventilate. I am so dependent upon Him. When pride tries to creep into our hearts, God reminds us of this fact. He doesn’t use us because we’re great. He uses the weakest. That’s where His strength can be demonstrated to its greatest capacity: in the weakest.

2 Corinthians 12:9

And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.

His strength is made perfect in weaknessThe weaker I am, the more He can demonstrate His strength through me. And the less credit I can take for it. Steven Furtick, the pastor of Elevation Church, once said “The end of yourself is the beginning of Him. The end of your strength is the beginning of His.”

     God knows me. He knows He called the weakest. After conviction, after repentance, I can’t condemn myself every time I miss it. I have to pray fervently. I have to believe that while I missed it, someone else won’t. While steps, actions are temporal, prayers are eternal. (Revelation 5:8) 

I am becoming. I am not perfect. At times, I have missed it. At times, I will.

But God never has. He never will.

It is my imperfection that gives His perfection opportunity to shine through.

11 Things I Learned in 2017

I’m a few weeks late on this whole New Year’s post thing, but coming into this new season, I am reminded of all I learned this past year. I hope this list blesses you!

11 Things I Learned in 2017

  1. Do better today than you did yesterday.

I have this horrible condition called perfectionism. The above phrase came to my mind one day in the midst of sulking in my imperfection. It reminds me that I can’t expect myself to grow leaps and bounds overnight. The new goal for everyday is simply to do better than the day before.

2. Trust your intuition.

It’s ok to be hopeful, but the Holy Ghost is a discerner. So many times I get an uneasy “feeling” when I meet someone. This doesn’t signify that they’re a bad person or that they’re out to get me, but this “feeling” reminds me to stay on guard. Many times, too many times, I push past this intuition either out of naivety or because I second-guess myself. NEVER has this worked out for me. Listen to the gut-check! God speaks in a still small voice (1 Kings 19:12).

 3. How someone treats you says a lot about who they are and very little about who you are and what you’re worth.

Now, I understand that we should derive our worth from God not people; however, it can be easy to feel “less than” when someone you respect doesn’t treat you, or stops treating you, like you are of worth. Jesus doesn’t treat us with love, with grace, because we are worthy of it, but because that is who He is. The same principle applies to us. Our character is revealed in the way we treat others, especially “those who can do nothing for [us]” (Malcolm S. Forbes). If someone starts to treat you poorly, it’s a reflection of their character not your worth.

4. Just because people don’t care in the way you think they should doesn’t mean they don’t care.

With the previous statement being said, I feel this one is important. A wise person once said “expectation is the root of all heartache”. Sometimes we imagine how people should care and if it doesn’t align with exactly what we expect, we assume they don’t. People only care in the way they know how. Most people are trying their best. Ere on the side of grace.

5. It’s ok to out-love people.

We live in a culture that looks down on “caring more”. We hear “the power belongs to who cares less”. But true courage loves with, not fear of but, intent of out-loving (1 John 4:18). So whether this means I’m walked over or not treated as kindly as I’d like, I’ve made peace with sometimes feeling like I’m giving more than I’m getting.

6. Watch the fruit.

In EVERYTHING, whether it be music, friendships, reading material – I mean EVERYTHING – watch the fruit you reap. The fruit will speak volumes. A friendship, for example, may not seem inherently bad; however, if you find yourself being more negative or gossiping more after interacting with that particular person…the fruit is speaking. A song may not have bad lyrics or inappropriate content, but if you feel depressed or lonely every time you listen to it, then it’s probably not a song you should be listening to. Everything you sow into, you will reap the fruit of (Galatians 6:7-9).

 7. Be mindful of how often you are mindless.

Our culture is all about being mindless. Whether it be binge-watching Netflix, social media, online shopping or anything phone-related, the endless scrolling keeps us in a state of mindlessness. We spend countless minutes, hours, on time-wasters that require no personal reflection or original thought. Be cognizant. Be aware. Time is ever-fleeting. Spend it wisely.

8. God can’t trust me to walk when I haven’t yet learned to stand.

Life works in progression. As infants we first learn to crawl, then stand. Eventually we learn to walk and then run. Spiritual growth is no different. Waiting in faith is just as crucial as walking in it. We must learn to stand where God’s placed us before we walk towards what He’s promised us. If “Peace” had to learn to “be still”, so must we.

9. Faith is believing God can. Trust is believing He will.

Sometimes we can have so much faith in God, in His power and might, but no trust. Trust makes faith personal. Faith says “He can do it”. Trust says “He will do it for me”. Just as we must believe He can, we must trust He will.

10. Sometimes what feels like God’s hand of correction is really His hand of grace.

We are conditioned to believe that “no” is negative. From adolescence we learn to hate that word. “No” is associated with disappointments and setbacks, with rebuke; however, a “no” from God is different. God’s “no” represents a greater and better “yes’. With time comes revelation and understanding. I thank God for every “no”, for time has revealed the grace behind each “disappointment”.

11. Build your future and God will restore your past.

We do not have the ability to walk in time. But He does. You can spend all day, every day regretting your past, rethinking decisions and analyzing how you could’ve done things differently. Unfortunately, that will change nothing. It will only leave you sorrowful and resentful of all the things you should’ve done but didn’t do. Look ahead to the future. Focus on building what is to come. Let Him restore your past.

That being said, briefly reflecting on the past can be so important to personal growth. I hope you also take the time to jot down a few lessons from 2017. For what is life, but an accumulation of lessons learned and memories gained? And what purpose has pain, if it doesn’t make room for growth?

The Dream Giver

Lately, I’ve been trying to challenge myself with writing. I try to write or edit everyday so that I can make it a daily habit. After all, practice makes perfect. Or at least in my case, a little bit better. Another challenge is to make public the pieces that I know aren’t perfect. I struggle as a perfectionist and I’m hoping that this practice will open my mind to the process of becoming a writer. I can’t, I won’t ever be perfect. I wrote this poem this afternoon in a few minutes. Instead of picking it apart, I’m leaving it as it is. Raw. Please enjoy its oddities and let me know if you see how it can improve! I’m always open to critique.


The Dream Giver

Today I dreamed a dream that felt too big

My heart sped up just as I pondered it

With trembling hands I held it up to God

I longed to see, to hear just what He thought

With baited breath and head held low

I paused and listened for that dreaded “no”

But lifting up my chin

with nail-scarred hands

Love whispered to me

“Child, know ye not who I Am?”

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