Giving Thanks When There Isn’t Much To Be Thankful For

I, like most, focus my attention on thanksgiving around this time of the year. With the falling of leaves, the pumpkin decor, and the baking of pies, my heart is most tender towards gratitude. I enjoy reading what others are thankful for as well. Our general focus is on family, friends, jobs, health, happy moments, and so on. We call these things our “blessings”, because well, they are good things.

I, like most, feel nostalgic around this time of year. With Christmas around the corner, memories of childhood and family are easy to access. Shopping lists for our current loved ones provoke emotion that is unique to this season. The scent of a Christmas tree or the sound of a carol can flood one’s face with tears in an instant. Nothing like the holidays to buoy up sensibility.

I, like most who have lived enough years, know the pain of loss. Many of my “blessings” have been peeled away. I think of dear friends who are suffering unimaginably in bereavement and grief. So what do we do when our dreams and hopes are stripped naked? People die. Health fails. Happiness dissipates giving way to depression. Families fall apart. What if we don’t have fond memories to look back on? How do we cope with a bleak future and the powerlessness to change it? What can one be thankful for when sadness wins?

Here is my gratitude list. It is quite short, but it packs a punch! It is not based on any good thing on earth. It includes true blessings that are accessible to anyone upon request. These gifts come from God and do not discriminate. They are not based on family history, personal achievements, or present circumstances. They are the truths that will never pass, change, or fade. So here it goes:

  • Forgiveness. Yes, it is marvelous when our loved ones forgive us for our wrongdoings, but there is no greater power in one’s life than the forgiveness that comes from God himself. Regardless of how others feel or respond, we have access to perfect pardon when we ask. God is merciful and never turns away a contrite heart.
  • Presence. Loneliness sucks. God knows that. So He can live in us when we ask him. This sounds a little fantastical and infantile, but ask anyone who has experienced the presence of God, and they will tell you it is real and powerful. The company of the Spirit is not an equal substitution for human relationships. Loneliness will still suck, but God provides comfort, strength, even joy, in the midst of heartache.
  • Perspective. When life gives us lemons we need sugar. Because, who wants sour lemonade? The story of Job (pronounced ‘Jobe’) is one of pain and misery. And God was totally in it. It is a story of perspective. We can have insight and a unique viewpoint if we can see our lives the way God sees them, not the way they look and feel to us in the moment. Finding perspective is not necessarily easy, but it is available. Sometimes all it takes is a quiet moment with God. Other times it takes diligent study of God’s thoughts and writings found in the Bible. Oftentimes the Spirit communicates through people around us, a counselor, a friend. The point is that when in pain, we often lose our outlook or our footing, and God is willing to share his point of view when we ask Him. When we have nothing else to be thankful for, perspective can be the tipping point from despair to hope. Yay for sweet lemonade!

So from my heart to yours, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving full of real blessings and gratitude for the things we can all have at all times in all places.

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When tribes define us

For my viewpoint, there’s this trend, getting stronger and stronger in our country. My friend, Jeremy, pointed out that it’s called tribalism, defined as “the behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group”.

I’ve seen people identify themselves in a people group, adopting all the views which encompass that identity. Their tribe represents whom they are and what they believe, and also whom they are not, and what they won’t tolerate.

I’ve also seen people identify others in people groups, not because they’ve asked to be pegged like that, but because of the assumption that if they share a belief with one tribe, that must mean they identify with the entire set of views or convictions.

Belonging to a people group is not essentially negative. A sense of community is healthy, promoting security and love. But I’m talking about the “us -vs- them” (as my friend Ashlee puts it) mentality.

This is not new. In our history we can easily remember how we hunted for witches or reported the communists. However, this trend seems to be more wide spread than I can ever recall in any American history book. Tribalism defines our society. One group against another, highly emotive reactions, little tolerance for others’ views, and destructive group-think ideology. Tribalism is not one idea versus another idea, one conviction against another; these are inevitable and a wonderful reality of being human and sharing the planet with other humans who think differently than one another. Tribalism is one group against another group: Republicans -vs- Democrats, Trump supporters -vs- Trump haters; political, religious, or moral conservatives -vs- liberals. Depending on the tribe one belongs to, the assumption is that one tribe loves while the other one hates, one is right and the other is wrong, one is rational while the other is idiotic. Stereotyping is not only tolerated, but fed into our minds through the wonderful world of social media. We call people names which are associated with tribes we persecute, like “the liberals”, “the media”, “the homophobes”, or “the tree huggers”. We put pressure on each other to not belong to this camp or that camp. How dare you believe this? If you do, I cannot associate myself with you, I will de-friend you (in social media lingo), I will not like your post, even if it seems reasonable (it can’t be reasonable, because it belongs to the other camp), I cannot be seen with you because others will think I agree with you…

Seriously, it is so incredibly hard to read real news! One newspaper is liberal, one TV channel is conservative, most report based on opinion, omitting certain news and emphasizing only the ones that fit the tribe. It takes hours of research to find out what really happened! Can a president I dislike do things I like? Not according to the tribe! Can one be a democrat and pro-life simultaneously? Nope, don’t think so. Can one believe in gun control and still hold other conservative values? What? Can a religious conservative hold a conviction of right and wrong and call certain behaviors “sin” and not be pegged as a bigot? Does love always mean tolerance of certain things and intolerance of other things? Or is it possible that we have just become a society that thinks that people who agree with us are loving and people whom we disagree with are the hating kind? Or that only our opinions are valid?

I would like to propose a change; not a big, societal change, since my little blog will reach only some. I would like to propose a personal challenge and baby steps. How about we make a pact to:

  1. Put relationships first. Get to know people, ask questions, refrain from making assumptions about what kind of people they are based on what they believe in, give others the benefit of the doubt, engage in civil and open minded conversation.
  2. Allow ourselves and others to not fit into one camp. Think outside the box. There might be something we’re missing. Analyze issues individually, not in packages.
  3. Approach each other with boldness and courage, not afraid or reluctant of good conversation, the kind that can get heated, yet not personal. Let’s not discourage one another from associating with “those people” who believe differently than we do. Our country is a great country because of discourse, engagement, and varied points of views. Let’s not cave into the peer pressure of needing to be like the majority or the group on the correct side of things. We might actually learn from each other!

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself, any direction you choose

Dr. Seuss

The Impossibility of Obeying God

One of the pastors at Third Church RVA reminded me yesterday that God calls us to do things we can’t do without him. In his sermon on Luke 9, referring to Jesus feeding the 5,000 people in the crowd, Rich Hutton pointed out that after hearing the request from the disciples to send people home to feed themselves, Jesus gave them a directive instead. “You give them something to eat,” he said. But how would the disciples do this, when they were hungry and tired themselves, as well as broke and needy? Impossible.

God calls me to do the impossible. And God’s calling to you, dear reader, is unattainable as well, at least in your own power. What is God’s calling? What are his commandments? How are we to obey him?

“One of the teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.'” (Mark 12: 28-31)

In my youth, I used to think I could do these things. I believed I could love God with everything in me, and I could love other people. But the more I grow and live, the more I realize it is absolutely, unequivocally impossible for me to do this! I look back at my life and realize that the main motivation for my actions, even the “good” ones, has mostly been self-centered. Not that I realized that. Not that I am that discerning even now! But I’m taking a hard look at myself and finding that even what I do in service of others is often tainted with pride and self-indulgence. Have I ever truly loved God and loved my neighbor? Yes. But have I obeyed God’s commands well, faithfully, and consistently? Absolutely not.

Just as it was impossible for the disciples to feed the crowd, it is impossible for all of us to do what God requires of us. And just like in the story of Mark, we can find comfort in the fact that Jesus not only understands our inability, but is willing to step in and do the work with us and through us!

God calls us to do the impossible, SO THAT HE CAN HELP US! This blows my mind! I so desperately need God’s help and He is so willing to give it! Jesus was the one who fed the crowd, but the disciples were the ones handing out the bread. Their reluctance turned into joy, and their burden into gratitude.

Lord, will you help me today? Will you come to the aid of my readers as well? Do what we cannot do ourselves. May you empower us today to love you with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and may you love others through our service to them. May you purify our hearts so that our motivation for living and our purpose for serving is God-centered and not self-centered. May we pour out honest love and kindness towards those whom are closest to us, spouses, children, parents, friends. May we desire your glory to be displayed for all to see as we serve people outside of our inner circles. May we not seek self-satisfaction from our good works, but instead experience true joy and gratitude that stems from a sincere place of worship to God and service to others.

I thank God that in giving us commandments that are impossible to keep, He also demonstrates his love for us by empowering and supplying for us, to us, and through us.

“The Lord is the strength of his people” (Psalm 28:8a)

 

An Honest Assessment

The end of 2015. I’m not one to over-analyse things. At least that’s what my family tells me. But this year has been especially challenging for me and approaching its end seems to accentuate the urge to remember and recall the blessings received, the difficulties experienced, and lessons learned this past year.

For those of you on social media who view my beautiful family pictures with smiling faces and assume that I am a wonderful person with a wonderful marriage and a perfectly harmonious family, please remember that we take those pictures during happy and peaceful times, during vacations, birthday celebrations, and special moments. These pictures are not deceitful. They are honest. But they do not reflect the full spectrum of life lived.

With that said, here’s a recap of my year (and if anyone out there relates, shout out an amen, will ya?):

Despite my dreams and aspirations to be a good mom and wife, I have to admit I’ve yelled at my husband, said hurtful words to a daughter, acted intolerant towards a son, and neglected my mother. I’ve been impatient with those whom I love and wounded them with my words and actions. Not once or twice, but many more times than I could recount with a shed of dignity. I have cried many tears, especially the months that Gabriel had his eyes (and emotions) shut. Also, my other kids are leaving the house one by one and I confess I have not handled that with faith or trust in God. I have, instead, felt self-pity and self-absorption. Yes, grieving during empty-nesting is natural, and I sure have done that. But I’ve also been consumed with regret and insecurities, all pointing to the fact that my assurance of God’s presence and purpose have been lost in my focus on self. This depression has affected me in more ways than one, and I think I’m experiencing a full-blown hormonal super-charged midlife crisis!

On the flip side, I have rejoiced and given thanks for seeing my children grow in their faith and mature in their choices. I have seen them being courageous, determined, and disciplined. I have cherished the times we have as a family and my heart has been so encouraged seeing the love that they feel for one another. They are the best of friends and they will always be there for each other. What a gift! This year I’m gaining a daughter and the wedding happens in less than 4 months! These are exciting times full of hope and anticipation.  Lizette has recorded an album, Gabriel has had his eyes open for months! (Praise the LORD), Daniel has received a promotion and raise, Geneva has moved to RVA, and Elise has become a board certified CNA. Yay! And despite my many failures as a mom and wife, I have loved well at times, forgiven when needed, brought the family together, cooked for many family gatherings, listened, hugged, given rides, and cheered for my kids. God is certainly at work in my life.

In other news, my job has rocked. Not only do I love what I do but I have made good friends, met wonderful people who pour out their lives for their children and work passionately for their community. I have also been stretched in my skills as a musician. I got to direct the pit orchestra while working as music director for Fiddler on the Roof, a most terrifying and exhilarating experience. I also did my part in directing the music for Seussical in a two week period. Who knew that could be done! And I discovered the LoVetri Somatic vocal technique, which I’m using with all my private voice students with great results. Not only do I love my job, but my husband loves his job. I mean, really? He has left happily in the mornings and returned happily in the evenings. We are both, indeed, quite content in that department. Yay for 2015!

My faith, on the other hand, not so steady. I often times have felt far away from God’s presence, I have stayed away from the Word and doubted God’s goodness. I have not prayed due to lack of trust. But God has sent me encouragement in the form of great sermons, faithful friends, testimonies, facebook statuses, and beautiful sunsets. So despite my weak and feeble faith, God is strong through me and in spite of me. My verse for this year (and for my entire life) has been “I do believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

And friends. While I am sad to say that I don’t have many close, local friends at the moment, I do consider myself blessed by people who have cared enough to pray for me, worry about me, laugh with me, give me words of encouragement, and share their hearts with me. If you are reading this and know you are part of this group, I want to tell you I am so thankful for you!

2015 has been a hard year, but also a good year. I have eaten too much and gained enough to not fit into my clothes, I have traveled and seen new places, I have visited loved ones in Miami, I have made new friends here, I have been loved by those whom I work with, I have read good books, seen the justice system work in favor of the innocent, gotten mad at politicians, discovered the Philadelphia Museum of Art with my mom, gone to the Venetian Pool twice, been criticized for my views on welcoming refugees, seen my nieces dance flamenco, breathed in ocean air, made music videos with Elise, seen Newsies, cuddled with Bosco the horse-dog, learned to make flan, seen Man of la Mancha, had not one, but two blood transfusions, played Balderdash, bought new couches, gone to Carters Mountain with fabulous people, built a snow-man, gone Christmas caroling on Lizette’s birthday, gone to a vineyard, sat in countless amazing auditions, prayed with dear friends in a fellowship group, listened to Hamilton, toured the Supreme Court, chaperoned, attended Bible study, drank 4 sips of wine without getting drunk, and discovered many great little restaurants in RVA.

2015 has forced me to grow. It has been full of life, celebrations, and fabulous experiences, as well as challenges and heartache. God has remained a steady rock through it all. Thank you 2015, it’s been good knowing you.

family

 

 

 

Reflections on 9/11

I will never, ever forget the day when planes crashed on the Twin Towers and in Washington, DC. It is vividly engraved in my mind, as one of the most horrible images I’ve seen. Buildings on fire, people hanging and eventually jumping out of windows, structures melting into rubble, and panic everywhere. So much death and destruction. So much darkness.

Today, September 11, 2015 is no different than that day 14 years ago. We often times live under the illusion that we are safe; we assume that we will get up in the morning, go to work, come back to our families, dine a good meal, and sleep in our beds at night, untouched. But life can change in an instant. And evil is still alive and at work. Just across the Atlantic there are millions of Syrians trying to stay alive, walking to refugee camps, hoping to find a place of permanency. How are they different than us? 9/11 is a sad reminder that we are just as vulnerable as the rest of the world, and that our lives are as fragile and finite as anybody else’s.

  • This world can be a harsh place to live in. Evil surrounds us; evil lives within us. Perfect happiness and absence of pain are impossible to achieve. The bad that we don’t want to do, we end up doing. We cannot control evil and good in ourselves, much less in others around us. This world is harsh.
  • Life and death are  unpredictable. We can make plans, structure our weeks, months, years, take care of our health, eat well and exercise. We can go to school to get a degree that will land us a job that will provide a good income for the family we are to have and the life we want to live. But in an instant, it could all be gone. My friend, Haider, recently lost a good friend who was riding a bike and got hit by a truck. Just like that. Alive one moment and gone the next. We cannot control death. The only thing for certain is that sooner, everyone will go through it. Everything in this world is unpredictable.
  • Life is fragile. Relationships can crumble; jobs can be lost; friends can move away; children grow up and leave; health deteriorates with age. Such is life! Gunmen can open fire; planes can crash into buildings; terrorists can terrorize; countries can wage wars. Such is life! Fragile and uncertain.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you will have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

  • God is not of this world. He does not live under our rules, uncertainties, or frailties. He is above it all, safe, trustworthy, and sovereign. Not only do we have his power available to us right now, but we also have his life extended throughout eternity, accompanied by his peace and complete satisfaction. In this world, he conquered death and suffering, by freely giving himself to undergo a horrific act of sacrifice on our behalf. Through this sacrifice, he satisfied the guilt we carried and made way for us to have access to him, not only now, but for all eternity. So despite the sufferings of the here and now, we can all have this hope. If we believe in Christ, then we will also receive his life. God is not of this world!
  • Nothing can harm us, in Christ. We can suffer evil, loss, and destruction, yet have all things, because we have his life. Our bodies can cease living and decay in a grave, but our spirits can remain alive and in his presence. We can laugh and love and enjoy every day on this earth, knowing that this is not everything there is! Noting can harm us!! Can there be a sweeter hope?

“He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 25:8

God is Not Fair

God is not fair!

Is it not eternally penned? Stories of God commanding the killing of people, the annihilation of nations, the harsh and violent punishment for sin and evildoing? God is not fair to require the slaughtering of animals, the constant shedding of blood – bulls, goats, doves – Whatever did they do to deserve it? This God of the Old Testament, this God of the Jews: Not fair.

And how about here and now? All we need to do is look around or read the news. Some are rich and others poor. Some die old and some get killed. Some are free yet some are prey. Where is the fairness? “The poor will always be with us,” said Jesus. We live in this world that is saturated with tears and pain, conflicts and wars. And here we are: Stuck! We are all powerless to change the evil of this world. God, however, is mighty; yet he doesn’t change it either! For reasons that He only, fully understands, he chooses to permit suffering to continue. Unfair.

And then, there is me. Hard as I try to be happy, careless, and free, I am inevitably disappointed. I don’t want to cry from pain, but people I love, die; those I want, don’t want me back; and things I crave, I fail to attain. Unfair! It is all unfair!

God is unfair. But he is just. Justice is part of his name, his nature, his core. His justice never fails to punish the guilty. And so here we see the most unfair work of God. Out of all the unfairness in the entire history of our world, one act stands out as the most outrageous and outlandish. God planned this day with the utmost of care – every detail pre-arranged – From the beginning of time, whenever that was, however that worked, he willingly and purposefully lined up the events in human history to culminate in this heinous act of utter unfairness. He warned us. Isn’t it eternally penned for all to see? Abraham spoke of it, as did Moses, David, Isaiah, Daniel, and many other prophets with countless amounts of words, both spoken and written for the world to know.

God’s anger burned, for sin and evil were great. So his wrath against malice and his unceasing need for justice were finally poured out. God the Father assigned God the Son, in the form of man, to be the recipient of his wrath. He knew mankind could not handle such punishment, such anger, such justice. So he poured it out on one man; his only son; his most loved and cherished being. But Jesus was innocent! He had done no wrong to deserve this! But willingly he came, as a lamb to the slaughter. And willingly he died the death of a criminal. And willingly he became a curse, taking the form of sin, the meaning and guilt of sin, all upon himself. In one selfless act, God himself satisfied his wrath once and for all. It was so great and so vast that alas, his anger was forever spent! The guilt of mankind on one man. Unfair! Unfair!!

And one more thing is unfair: I cannot purchase, bargain, or even work for my salvation or right standing with him. My envy from last week, my lust from yesterday, and my pride from this morning, have all been paid for, fully justified, but not by me. Are there enough “good” things I can do to compensate for the “bad” ones? If that were true, I would end up losing every time! If it’s not arrogance, it’s laziness. If it’s not selfishness, it’s self-pity, but either way, any day of the week, and every hour of the day, my mind thinks an impure thought and my will moves me to a wicked act. And yet, here I stand, forgiven and clean! Unfair! To be washed and pure because the innocent one took the punishment on my behalf, and the anger of God, meant for me, fell on another. Unfair, unfair, unfair!!

God is love, and his love isn’t fair. It is unmerited, from start to finish. It all makes sense now! His commands, his requirements, his need for justice, they all point to Jesus and our immense need of him! Suffering, pain, tears, and death are part of this world, but this is no longer all there is. Happiness is not our greatest need. Fellowship with God is. Through Jesus, he opened a door and made a way for us to experience this. To all who call upon his name, he gives the right to be called children of the Most High! He died and rose again and is now preparing a place for us, for the rest of time. Is it not eternally penned for the world to know? In the most unfair way, he has demonstrated his love forever. Praise him, praise him, praise him!

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

(Charles Wesley, 1738)

What I Didn’t Know About Snow Until I Moved to Virginia

Things I never knew, and liked, about snow until I moved to Virginia:

  • Snow swirls. Unlike rain which falls straight down, snow is light and dances as it makes its way to the ground. It’s quite mesmerizing, actually.
  • It’s loose and fluffy, but at the same time, it sticks together and packs itself up. It disintegrates in your hand, but it can easily be compacted into a ball. If the surface on which it falls is cold enough, it will stick to it, no matter what the incline is. It is beautiful to wake up to white roofs and tree branches, yet easy enough to brush it off your car (of course, this is without ice, which is a whole different story).
Back porch

Back porch

My front yard, this morning.

My front yard, this morning.

  • I’m happy we only get snow a few times a year in central VA. Snow is pretty when it’s fresh off the sky. Yet, it can turn ugly while it sits there for days, making everything more cold and more wet than you want it to be. So, again, glad it doesn’t happen that much where I live, because I can see how it would be really easy to get tired of it. I’m grateful it is few and far between; it’s enjoyable and sporadic enough to maintain its magic.

Undisturbed, fluffy blanket

  • Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of falling snow is how silent it is. I’m used to rain storms, with loud drops of water coupled with roaring thunder. But snow is simply quiet. Everything is quiet. Animals are quiet. Traffic quiets. The world seems to stop and sit still. Waiting. Watching. It’s captivating. There is truly nothing like it.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

  • Snow reflects light, like crazy! Nights full of snow are absolutely gorgeous. The slightest hint of light drives away darkness. During the day, if it’s sunny, the reflected light is almost blinding. It gives me hope, remembering that in the cold and in the dark, God can, and often does, send heavenly provision that brightens life.
  • Snow days (at least in Central VA) = mandatory rest days :). Schools close and businesses often do the same. Since my husband works on a school schedule, if the local community college closes, his job closes as well. So yay for family time on snow days! Snow days = playing outside, bonding with the kids, reading, blogging, and board games.
  • OK, OK, I will include one thing which I don’t like about snow. It’s messy. It gets on your shoes which eventually gets into your house or your car, wetting everything. And if there happens to be salt on the floor (which happens outside of business and stores to prevent slipping), that stuff will stick to your shoes and stain your floors. Yup. I really dislike that aspect of snow. But considering it’s an occasional nuisance, it’s not so bad, after all.
3 layers of socks before venturing out

3 layers of socks before venturing out

Snow selfie, of course 😉

Daniel tried to go out driving but got stuck on our street 😛

My handsome men (minus one)

Stephano, the snowdude

My baby and I with Stephano ❤

Dying in Autumn… And Other Fun Thoughts

The weather system in VA got the correct memo this year. On the exact day which marks the first day of autumn, the temperature changed drastically from humid-warmth to crisp-gentle-coolness. Bliss.

I am wearing my fuzzy shoes and my comfy hoody. The trees are beginning to brighten the view with oranges and reds, and pumpkins begin to decorate porches and store fronts. It’s time for apple picking, raking leaves, drinking pumpkin-spice lattes, wearing boots, and pretty soon, lighting the fireplace. I thought I wasn’t going to want summer to end, but now that it has, I’m feeling quite content.

My birthday is coming up in October, right smack in the middle of Fall. I must admit I hate the idea of growing old. I know, I know, first of all, I’m not that old yet, and also, aging is not necessarily a bad thing and I should probably embrace it gracefully. Except, despite my effort to happily accept the declining of my years, I still don’t like it. Other than having grandchildren (which has not happened yet) there is nothing that attracts me about the idea of growing old. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m scared of dying (I’m actually quite excited about the thought of spending eternity with Jesus), but I am very reluctant of being old.

So my favorite season comes with the yearly reminder of my proximity to old age. I guess it’s fitting. At the risk of sounding morbid, which I probably already have, I consider the fact that we can thank old age and death for the beauty of the season. Trees are in the process of dying. Leaves mature and change, and then… well, die. And somehow we all benefit from the amazing, exuberant, and vibrant colors they bring to our feasting eyes. There is beauty in newness, such as the incomparable beauty of spring blooms. Equally true, there is also a serene and cool adornment in autumn.

So even though I will more than likely not be very happy when my birthday rolls around and I turn 48, and all I can think of is that the big 5-0 is approaching, I will try to cheer myself up with the idea that aging can be gorgeous. I’ll enjoy every latte and every cup of apple cider and I’ll bring out my pretty scarves and… I wish I could say hats, but they flatten my hair. I’ll snap lots of pictures and take it all in.

Yes, I do feel quite content… at least for now…

Suffering with Hope

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life”  – Proverbs 13:12

I suffer. You suffer. We suffer. Pain is a common ailment, affecting 100% of the world’s population. Sure, there are people who go through more anguish than others. Not all pain is equal in degree or in longevity. But at the end of the day, we can all say that we have either suffered or are continually suffering one way or another. So let’s change the saying to a new an improved version: Three things are certain, suffering, death, and taxes.

The question is not if we suffer, but how we suffer.

As I see it, there are two ways of enduring the hardships this world has to offer: With hope or without it.

Suffering with no hope feels like darkness. There is nothing to look forward to, nothing to make us get up in the morning, and nothing to motivate us to keep trying, breathing, moving forward. Suffering without a living, present hope, as the proverb says, makes the heart sick. A sick heart will see no light nor will it desire to live. A sick heart wants to succumb to the pain instead of fighting against it. It will desire to give up and will seek a way out. Suffering without hope is desperate.

Suffering with hope feels altogether different. The object of our hope strengthens our minds to do battle against our pain. We endure when we hope. We find strength when we hope. We can embrace our suffering and see the good in it, when we hope. In fact, we can even have joy in spite of the pain, when we hope. A cancer patient can endure radiation because she has hope it can heal her. The unemployed father gets up every morning and endures the hardship by applying to jobs because he hopes he will find one soon. A child suffers through relocation and changes of school when he hopes he will make new friends. Hope helps us to keep trying.

But the problem with hope is that it is not always real nor attainable. What happens when chemo doesn’t work and the cancer does not go away? Or the job search lasts not for a few weeks, but for a year? What if a student hopes to recover from his failing grades but can’t and loses his scholarship? We can hope for a new boyfriend, a better car, a marriage, a child, and that hope can help us through a season. But what if the object of our hope never materializes? What if fertility treatments don’t work? What if we are evicted from our home? What is our hope then? How can we endure then? Do we succumb and give up?

Yes, any kind of hope can help us in our suffering, even if for a little while. But there is only one kind of hope that will sustain us all the time and in all circumstances. There is only one hope that does not disappoint.  Even when there is no earthly hope that can possibly pick us up, there is an eternal, supernatural hope that will. A man named Job, written about in the Old Testament, lost everything: His children died, his processions were burned away, his wife left him, and then the icing on the cake, he got so sick that he was in constant pain and unable to care for himself. He fought hard against suffering. He said: “Though he (God) slay me, I will hope in him”.  He understood two things: 1. God allowed suffering in his life, and 2. He could trust God with his pain because God obviously understood why he would do such a thing to Job, even when Job could not understand it. Yes, the whole book of Job shows us a tremendous struggle of belief and unbelief. But in the end, we see that these words really reflected where Job put his trust. He obviously would never see his children again. Humanly speaking, there was no hope! Yet, he hoped. He hoped, not in a physical restoration or restitution, but in God himself.

Suffering may find us. But we can find hope, but deciding to trust God. He, himself, is our hope. It is not what he can give us or what he can do for us, that should give us hope, but who he is: his character, his presence, his comfort, his wisdom, his knowledge, and everything that makes him God and huge and good. We can put our trust in him so that He becomes our hope.

When we desire him more than what he can give us, we will then breathe life into our pain. “…. A desire fulfilled is a tree of life”. Yes! Let us make him the object of our desire:

  • By reading Scripture that reminds us of who he is and how much we need him
  • By talking to him, acknowledging his presence and power in our lives
  • By listening to him (spending time in silence, hearing God’s Word preached, talking with others who trust in him also)
  • By refusing to allow our emotions to win over our will to trust. Persevere and fight!

I have endured suffering with no hope, the dark kind. I have also suffered with great hope in Christ. I wish for myself, for my children, my family, and my friends, and even for you, dear reader, to never suffer in darkness.

“Why are you cast down, o my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” -Psalm 43:5

 

My Testimony

It was the summer of 1983 in beautiful Quito, Ecuador. I was a rising senior in high school. I had a good family, a good school, good friends. I lived in a pretty house in a pretty neighborhood. I was minding my own business going about my life, thinking of my future after high school. I was not sure what I wanted to pursue in college, so I opted for a leap year. I would leave town as a foreign exchange student for a year and then decide how to grow up. I was in no hurry. I didn’t feel the need to change.

And then out of nowhere my life was radically transformed. A group of missionaries had moved into a house two blocks away from mine. They went door to door evangelizing, and when they came to mine, they talked to my mom. She was not interested in their message and decided that in order to get them off their back, the best thing would be to send me to one of the meetings they were so eagerly inviting her to attend. I guess I was bored. Not really sure why I even went in the first place, but I did. The meeting took place on Saturday, August 9th. My initial thoughts about it: These people are ridiculous. Their songs are terrible. Why are they so excited? I think they are crazy! Why would I agree to return the following Monday to have a private conversation with one of the missionaries? Certainly there is no logical answer to that question.

On August 11th, 1983 I met a sweet missionary who greeted me warmly and led me to one of the rooms in the house. I had no idea why I was there. I didn’t know what she wanted to tell me. I felt compelled to comply, and that is all I knew. We sat in two adjacent chairs and shortly after some initial chit-chat, she pulled out a little track entitled “Four Spiritual Laws”. She read it out loud as she held it in front of me so I could read it alongside her.

  1. GOD LOVES YOU. Um, yes, I kinda knew that, I thought.

  2. YOU ARE SINFUL AND SEPARATED FROM GOD. I saw a picture of a broken bridge. It all seemed pretty elementary. I guessed she was probably right. I knew deep inside I was a sinner, even though I couldn’t really list a whole list of bad sins. Noting major came to mind.

  3. JESUS IS GOD’S PROVISION FOR YOU. Another picture. The bridge was now repaired by the cross. I was a little confused by it, but I was also encouraged by it. I had never thought I could “reach” God. He had always been far removed and disinterested.

  4. YOU MUST RECEIVE JESUS AS LORD AND SAVIOR. Aha! There had to be a catch. I wasn’t completely sure what that meant, to receive Jesus. Maybe it wasn’t a catch. She proceeded to explain something about putting my faith in him and asking him to come into my heart and forgive me. Frankly, it was all too much for me to understand. The reading of the little pamphlet took about 5 minutes, not enough time for me to digest anything she was saying. I had never heard anything like it. It seemed a bit simplistic, a bit unrealistic. I wasn’t sure what I would get in return.

She read a few scriptures and then asked me if I would like to pray with her and ask Jesus to come into my heart. I nodded yes.

Wait, what?

She verbalized a prayer and asked me to repeat after her. If I were to sit today and share the gospel with another person, I would never pray a pre-written prayer and ask this person to repeat after me. Not a chance. But that is exactly what I did. I repeated. The prayer started with Dear Jesus. Up until then, I had stayed rational and collected. And then a flood opened in my heart, my mind. I cannot describe it well, other than to say that it felt as if I went from being a hard stone to a soaking sponge, absorbing every drop, every word that came out of my mouth. Had someone turned on a switch? I said a quick prayer, but I meant every word. Somehow. My eyes were filled with tears. I didn’t want the prayer to end. I wanted to stay there.

After we said amen I felt very confused about my feelings and what I was experiencing. I had no clue what hit me. The missionary girl looked at me a bit surprised but with a big smile. I couldn’t stop crying, but I wasn’t sure why. She gave me a quick hug and told me to come back in a few days so we could talk some more. I think she gave me another little pamphlet for me to read at home, but I’m not exactly sure about that memory.

I returned the following week. I wanted more.

My new friend asked me if I wanted to study the Bible with her. I replied that I did not own one and that I didn’t think my parents would want to buy me one (truth is I never asked them; I just assumed that if they were not Christians, they would not want to do that). So she said that we should pray for one. Pray? I had never imagined that we could actually pray for something so specific. What a novel idea. Sure, why not? Despite my skepticism, I prayed along with her.

Two weeks later I was on my way to visit a friend in the neighborhood. There is nothing fuzzy about this memory; I remember it as if it were yesterday. A man was walking on the same sidewalk I was on, coming towards me. As we were crossing each other he asked me if I owned a bible. What? No, I said. Then he asked me if I wanted one. I swallowed hard. Y-yes. He handed me a bible. HE HANDED ME A BIBLE. Right there, in the middle of the block, a stranger handed me the bible we had prayed for. It was a brand new one. It was a soft leather-bound, gold-trimmed, prayed-for bible. And then the man left without another word. I never saw him again.

Three weeks prior to this moment, I had had a very emotional experience praying a pre-written prayer. But this moment dug an even bigger and deeper mark into my spirit. My mind was convinced that this God I had prayed to was real, and that he heard me and cared for me. I was completely overwhelmed by his goodness. There would be nothing that could have possibly wiped off the smile on my face for a long time!

I read that bible all. the. time. I woke up and read it before I got out of bed. I read it through the day. I read it in bed before falling asleep at night. I studied it with my friend every Monday. I meditated on it. I LOVED it.

And God changed me.

I took that little pamphlet with the four spiritual laws everywhere I went. I read it to my boyfriend, I read it to my best friend. I read it to my mom. I read it to my math teacher. No one seemed impressed by it. Everyone seemed to think I had lost my mind. But my love for God grew and grew.

My senior year in high school was the beginning of my walk with God. Today marks 31 years from the day I prayed that little prayer. My life was completely and irrevocably transformed, forever.

I planned on leaving to Europe for a year as a foreign exchange student, but my parents changed their mind at the last minute, and did not let me go. I was very disappointed and disoriented, since I did not have a plan B; Yet, with my newly found faith, I trusted that God had a purpose for my life. The turn of events led me to make the decision to come to the United States. My grandfather and his wife, Mary, lived in Miami and I could stay with them. I did not know at the time that they were also Christian and would support me and help me grow in the faith. And that was that. I said good-bye to my friends and family. I took a plane and cried all the way there. I landed in Miami on August 24th, 1884, not knowing what I would do with my life. My grandfather suggested community college. A week later I was sitting in classes at Miami-Dade Community College as a music major.

Five months later, I met Juan. His love for God was irresistible. One month after that I was engaged. And the following January, married. But that is a story I will write in another blog post 🙂

About a year after I became a Christian, my mom believed in the lord Jesus as well. She shared the gospel with my dad and he also believed and was converted. He is now with the Lord.

My understanding of the gospel has grown. My experiences with God have deepened. My knowledge of the bible has increased. But I know one thing for certain. God saved me that day 31 years ago. Among other things, I have learned that a prayer doesn’t save you, but faith does. I did not “decide” to know him. He pursued me. He compelled me. He moved me. He spoke to me. He confirmed his presence to me. He took me from a state of death (that I was not aware I was in) to a state of life. And it was ALL his doing. I was born that day. And I am so grateful!

This is the story of the way God saved me. Fortunately, he continues to save me (otherwise known as “sanctify” me), transforming me constantly through his words given to me in the bible. Not a dull moment with him. Not a single regret. And my heart is full with anticipation at the thought of meeting him face to face one day, after my days are done on this earth. I know when and how my walk with him started, but the even greater news is that it will never end.

The summer I was saved. Spending a week at Salinas, a beautiful Ecuadorian beach

The summer I was saved. Spending a week at Salinas, a beautiful Ecuadorian beach

My senior year in high school, studying at my house with my best friends

My senior year in high school, studying at my house with my best friends

Newly arrived to Miami, FL, sporting my incredibly cute old-beat-up VW

Newly arrived to Miami, FL, sporting my incredibly cute old-beat-up VW