Things I am Horribly Afraid of

I must confess I am afraid. I am pretty sure I am not the only one out there suffering from fear. After all, it is a human emotion, a normal reaction to danger or pain. I just don’t like it. What’s worst, when I give in to it, my reactions and behaviors become detrimental to myself and those around me. Here are the things that make me most afraid:

  • My kids’ future. I fear they might not be safe, especially, but not exclusively, my autistic son. I fear they will go through painful circumstances. I fear they might make bad choices. How could they not? They are human, right? Thoughts of them not following God wholeheartedly can make me shake in my boots.
  • My own future. I fear getting old. I’ve said this before, but confessing it has not quite made it better. At least not yet. I keep working through this fear in hopes I will feel peace about it one day. Maybe when I’m old, I’ll feel peace about being old. But now, I do way too much worrying over it.
  • Loneliness. I guess it goes hand in hand with being old. Not sure why I associate them automatically. I just do.
  • Not being loved. This is not a fear I’m always aware of, but I’ve been discovering that there are many things I do and say because I am afraid I won’t be loved or accepted. Even when I know that I know that I am loved, I default to an unreasonable fear of losing it.
  • Failure. I am afraid of discovering that I may have failed at something, especially the really important things: failure in parenting; failure in marriage; failure in friendships; or as a daughter, sister, aunt.
  • Drowning. I know, I know, this is a little morbid. But hey, I’m posting about the things I am afraid of, and this is definitely one of them. Throughout my many years of driving multiple little ones in the backseat, strapped to car seats, I avoided driving near water, at all cost. Living in Miami, Florida, that was not an easy task. There are canals everywhere! Yet, I chose alternative routes whenever possible. I think I read one too many stories of cars plunging into water. The thought of that happening to me and my children haunted me in dreams for years.
  • Cockroaches. How did I live in So. Florida for almost 30 years, around mammoth roaches called Palmetto Bugs? Just the name gives me goosebumps. They are the most hideous creatures on earth, at least in my very limited knowledge of earth! I am irrationally afraid of them. They cannot really hurt me, and needless to say, they are immensely smaller than I am. My husband kills them in one swoop. But me? No, I run like a pathetic, scared, little girl.

Fear is not an evil or sinful emotion. If it were not for fear, we would not stay away from dangerous or destructive situations. God created us in his image, and I believe emotions are part of that image. In fact, I believe Jesus experienced fear while living on earth, but instead of giving in to fear and responding negatively to his circumstances, he acted in faith and trust, even in his worst moments. It is recorded that as the day of his death drew near, he went up to the mountain and desperately cried out to God. He sweat drops of blood and demonstrated tremendous anguish at the thought of what he knew very well would happen. Jesus felt fear. But he knew how to handle that fear. The danger and pain he would face were absolutely real. But he received comfort in his knowledge of the truth and by delving into prayer with every ounce of strength he had.

So here is what I’m preaching to myself. Here are the truths I need to remember in order to respond to fear in ways that are not destructive to myself or others. I do not want to be controlled by fear. Instead, I want to reflect faith in God through my anxiety, doubt, and even my disbelief. My fear can most certainly result in glory and honor to him. So remember, my heart, these words:

  • I am not alone. “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). When I feel afraid, I have a helper, the perfect helper, who will remind me to trust God and encourage me with his Word. So in time of fear, PRAY, and you will receive his help! “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself interceded for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). Even when I don’t have the sense to pray or the words to voice, He rescues me!
  • God always remembers me, and my children too. “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children” (Psalm 103:17). 
  • I am more loved and accepted than I can fathom. Despite possible loneliness, failure, or disappointment, there is one whose love and delight will never be removed from me. I can draw joy and satisfaction from knowing that “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17)
  • Any suffering on earth pales in comparison with glorious things to come. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
  • Any suffering on earth has a good purpose, therefore there is no need to be afraid. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). 
  • Love drives away fear. If I truly remember that his love for me is stronger than anything that can happen to me, no matter how disastrous, then I will be able to experience peace instead of fear. This peace is supernatural and I cannot fabricate it outside of God’s realm. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27)

Just as true as it is that I can live in fear, it is true that God can and will meet me at my place of need every single time! I may not always remember him, and I may not always believe his promises for me, but my hope is that I continue to grow in my trust and faith in him. I have come a long way already! I have more confidence than I did a few years ago. I have more hope than before. I have experienced victory over fears that consumed me! So in today’s blog post, I purpose to remind myself of the things God has already taught me. I am certain He will continue encouraging me and helping me overcome my fears. I must admit, I’m not sure I will ever be comfortable around roaches ;), but if I can trust him with the huge things, I think I will survive a bug once and again.

Things Above

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth

Colossians 3:2

I am committing Colossians 3 to memory. God has parked me in this passage and has used it to challenge me, teach me, confront me, and encourage me. The truths in this chapter are currently performing an amazing work of transformation in my life. What a gift from God!!

Regarding vs. 2 and it’s life-altering truth, I pray God reminds me of it in my daily life. All the time. I want my mind to be completely and solidly set on things that are much bigger, stronger, and lasting than the temporary ones in my walk on earth.

So when I wake up in the morning, I must set my mind on God’s thoughts, through meditation on his word.

When I do chores, drive my kids from place to place, pay my bills, or wash my hair, I must remember Him in all I do. His purpose for me, in the moment, includes doing all those things, and He can, and will, teach me and show me truth, even in the mundane.

When I interact with my family and friends, I must look beyond my needs and desires and practice loving God by loving others. I must put to death selfishness, as I set my mind on things above: all things lovely and good, pure and holy.

When I work at my job, I must set my mind on giving glory to God in all I do, knowing my calling is higher than the earthly activity I am involved in. As I remember this, I will use opportunities wisely, remain joyful, pray constantly, and reflect his kindness to others.

When I feel discouraged or afraid, I must remember that God has all things under his control and that he never ceases to actively work in my life and those whom he loves.

When I am tempted to be lazy or self-indulge, I must remember God’s calling and commands. May God help me fear him and obey him, be quick to repent, and receive his forgiveness.

When I am senselessly busy, may I stop and rest, and enjoy the gifts God has given me.

Lord, help me to always set my mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

clouds

To the unmarried, Christian teenage girl who is pregnant:

I am proud of you.

Despite glances, gossip, and open criticism, you have chosen life.

Some have looked down on you for not terminating your pregnancy, making the assumption that the choice of birthing a child at such a young age will result in nothing but failure for you and for your child. Others have felt scandalized and even doubted that your faith in God is living and well, and have treated you as if your pregnancy made you unworthy of God’s love and grace.

You have felt ashamed as you have disobeyed the Word of God, which you have desired to follow throughout your life, and now your lack of judgement is worn on the outside, for all to see.

Yet, you have not chosen the “easy” way. You have wisely understood that despite your weaknesses, mistakes, and sinfulness, you have received a gift from God: the gift of life. You have decided that this life is more important than your social standing and reputation. You have put your life on hold and have made sacrifices and changes in order to carry and nurture this baby.

If you decide to parent this baby, you may give up your old dreams and replace them with new ones; you will live for another person and adjust your direction in life. It will be costly. If you chose to bless another family with the life of your child, by choosing adoption, you will suffer separation, yet you will be content in knowing your child will be well loved and cared for. It will also be costly. No matter the choice, you have willingly signed up for a very difficult task, and you have put the life of your baby over yours, and have shown tremendous maturity and displayed the heart of God for each one of his children.

I am proud of you.

So stand tall and rejoice in your choice. Do not let anyone bring you down. Life is a gift from God. Always. You inspire me to be brave and courageous.

I pray for God to fill you with his spirit, so you can obey him always, persevere in suffering, repent when needed, forgive when called for, pray constantly, and trust him in all circumstances.

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)

Is the Lord’s arm too short?

“The Lord answered Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.'” (Numbers 11:23)

There are days when you feel encouraged by the reminder that God is on your side.

There are other days when you are jolted back into reality as you remember His goodness and mercy.

Then there are those days when you feel you won’t be able to take one more breath unless God gives you the strength.

I just had some of those days. The latter ones. The ones that cause you to feel like you will drown unless someone rescues you.

The ones that cause you to fall flat on your face because it’s the only thing you can do.

There are verses in the Bible that lift your spirit and give you direction.

There are verses that teach you truth and correct your thinking.

And there are times when certain verses become your life line.

“Is the Lord’s arm too short?” He tells me… Is He not powerful, not willing, not able, not near, not good, not faithful?

On days when I cannot take one more step or breathe one more breath, the Spirit reminds me that He is with me, no matter what I’m facing or what I’m fearing.

Can there possibly be any better God than one who cares deeply?

Can there possibly be any better God than one who is strong and in full control of all things?

He says “You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”

Can there possibly be any better God than one who fulfills all his promises, for his own name’s sake?

I pity them who go through the hardships of life and do not have this comfort. I wish everyone did.

I thank you, God, for your presence, your promises, and your power.

May you be glorified.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: A Perfect Description of the Past Week

This week has been some week. Seriously, a week of extremes, in circumstances, emotional reactions, and spiritual responses; a week of utter failures and amazing victories. Care to know what happened? Here it goes!

THE BAD

How about we call it, a series of unfortunate events, too many to list. Among others:

  • While the family was out enjoying Christmas activities last Sunday evening, the adorable, cuddly Bosco (the pony-sized puppy which has been living in our house the past two weeks) managed to wreak havoc by plentifully peeing on our rug, eating massive amounts of chocolate cake which in turn produced profuse diarrhea, and drinking out of the toilet bowl (I’ll spare you the details). Two days ago, I came home to chewed up carpet, because, what is more fun to a puppy than tearing up the carpet, of course.
  • On Monday, while getting ready to go out and do some last minute grocery shopping before Christmas, and while trying to maintain enough self-control to not kill the adorable, cuddly Bosco, I heard the loud crying of my oldest daughter who had twisted her ankle outside and was now not able to walk from pain, resulting in a trip to the emergency room. (This run-on sentence describes the run-on emotional toil on my already overflowing cup). Oh, and, get this, while preparing to rush Lizette to the hospital, the puppy bolted out of the house, happily galloping at the speed of sound, while all the kids (except the injured one) ran after him like mad people all over the neighborhood, to the amusement of our neighbors. At the hospital we discovered Lizette had injured ligaments and would then begin a period (which has not ended) of immobilization of the leg, as well as the use of crutches. I do not recommend crutches in a split level home….
  • My original plan was to have a peaceful Tuesday: I would take time to prepare and organize my music, as I was leading the choir for our church and we would have our dress rehearsal that evening. I would also begin my preparations for our Christmas Eve dinner, cooking some, wrapping gifts, and cleaning the house. But then life happened and my Tuesday looked nothing like I had pictured it. It was rainy and cold, and I was out purchasing pain killers, doing the shopping I had not gotten done the previous day, and dealing with relational and emotional, family issues. So I panicked. Yes, I totally panicked. And what do I do when I panic? I pass it on to the husband and the kids, of course. But more on that on the “UGLY” chapter… (how’s that for a transition?)

THE UGLY

Here’s where it gets really good. You see, ugly is so ugly. As I was saying, panic, and worry, combined with perfectionism and pride, make the ideal recipe to, well, let’s say, kill the Christmas spirit. It began on Tuesday as I started anticipating I would not be ready for Christmas Eve. I transferred this pressure to my family (oh, and did I mention that my lovely, future daughter-in-law has been visiting us and watching me in “action” this whole week?). I wish I could blame my hormonal changes. But even though hormones can (and probably do) accentuate my emotional responses, they are not to blame for the sin that so reigned in my heart, putting my family in great distress. After my initial mini-fit on Tuesday, I told myself I would have a good, peaceful day on Wednesday. I got up that morning with a new resolve to be positive and stable. Ha! My “good” attitude lasted for most of the day, until BOOM, I completely lost it! I’m talking hyperventilation, anger, frustration, and worst of all, blaming and shaming. My family had been nothing but helpful and cooperative all day. But the enemy of my soul knew where to get me. A comment. A look. A tone. An unfinished task. A feeling of being out of control. Fear of failure. Pride. You name it!

And so just as our family was leaving the house to go to church, where I would lead the choir in the entire service of Lessons and Carols, in “joyful” celebration of the birth of our savior, I was acting more like a dog with rabies than a daughter of God. I arrived at church in distress and in tears. I then proceeded to lay guilt on my sweet daughter, who had been so loving towards me all day. The choir assembled in the appropriate room at the previously assigned time, ready for their warm-up. I did not show up on time, but walked in 10 minutes late, still red-eyed, as I barely composed myself to lead them in a short warm-up. My incredible sinful attitude was being displayed for all to see, and I needed to get a grip within the next 12 minutes.

THE GOOD

Praise the Lord, the good outweighs the bad and the ugly! The only reason it outweighs it, is because the good comes, not from me, but from God himself. He is perfectly good, and kind enough to shower his children with goodness, not once or twice, but always.

  • Grace: I am a recipient of it. Everyone who saw me at church on Christmas Eve knew I was not well. But every single one of them smiled, said a helpful word, and encouraged me. There wasn’t a single complaint, even if well deserved, but even as I walked in late, I was greeted by happy, forgiving faces and patient hearts.
  • Forgiveness: Boy, did I have to ask for it! Sitting at the table on Christmas Day I asked my family to forgive me, and was blessed by their immediate willingness to do so, without reservation.
  • Rescue: I don’t know how I led the choir on Christmas Eve. Honestly, my mind was only present half of the time. But the service was not about me. It was about Jesus and the goodness and love He displayed so openly by leaving his rightful place in heaven to become a human being. So God took care of it. He enabled the choir to sing their hearts out, he helped me to not be lost or make mistakes, and in the end, He received the attention and the glory, the way it was meant to be.
  • Love and friendship: Despite the disaster earlier in the day, our Christmas Eve dinner was lovely. Our family was happy to share this time with wonderful friends. The food was amazingly delicious. The caroling around the piano was uplifting and sweet, and the joy of God was evident. He had compassion for me and gave me what my heart so deeply desired, even though I did not deserve it.
  • Prayer: Our need has been greater, so prayer has increased. The ability to pray is a gift from God. Because Jesus was born in a manger and grew up to become the sacrifice for our sins, our Passover Lamb, we now have full access to him! We pray and he listens! It’s quite amazing. Not only has our family prayed more, but I have been specifically touched and encouraged by Lizette’s prayers. You see, she has gone years without praying… or believing in God. But God has begun a great work of inward transformation in her. At every turn this week, Lizette was the first to say, “Let’s pray”. No amount of bad or ugly can outweigh the joy of hearing her words and seeing her heart being poured out to God in faith and trust. Isn’t God good and merciful?

Today has been quiet, happy, and peaceful. Bosco is still alive and, somehow, still here (It’s a Christmas miracle). We are learning to keep him away from food and toilet bowls. This morning Lizette, Geneva, and I prayed and laid hands on him so that God would help him as well ;). We are eating delicious left-overs and Lizette’s pain is not as intense any more.

Elise and Bosco. Cute, right?

Elise and Bosco. Cute, right?

With my 3 daughters on Lizette's birthday, last Friday

With my 3 daughters on Lizette’s birthday, last Friday

Fiddler on the Roof: Musings and Pondering…

What a show! What a magically, wonderful show! As I prepare to be the music director for CWorks’ winter production, I can’t help but to ponder on the meaning and the impact this script and music will have on all of us. First of all, the show is highly entertaining due to its rich characters, fabulous music and dancing, timeless humor, and deep cultural connections. It is also thought provoking and enlightening, covering themes such as family values, tradition, and antisemitism.

I am a Christian, therefore I see everything in life through the lenses of my faith. From that perspective, I write this analysis of the content of this script. It is not exhaustive by any means. It simply reflects my own (limited) thoughts and pondering on the subject matter.

Brief Summary

In the fictional, Russian village of Anatevka, lives a milkman by the name of Tevya, along with his wife Golde and his 5 daughters. The story takes place at the turn of the 20th century, depicting life in a Jewish community coexisting with gentiles who, influenced and encouraged by the Tsar and a generalized antisemitic sentiment, persecute, drive away, and disperse the Jewish people living among them.

In the midst of this political turmoil, Tevya faces even greater challenges and difficulties in his own family. He has always held fast to the traditions of his people, but now his daughters are stepping away from his way of life, rejecting the old ways and choosing their own path. In Tevya’s mind, there is a struggle maintaining a balance between protecting the traditions of his people and supporting his loved ones. The fiddler on the roof illustrates such a struggle. In Tevya’s own words: “You might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy.”

Analysis

While there are many aspects of this show that could be analyzed, my aim is to limit it to the traditions depicted in this story. I find them fascinating and worth thinking about.

In Jewish communities there are discrepancies as to what is allowed or desired according to their religion. Much like Christianity, which has differences in denominations and cultures, yet has the same core system of belief across the board, Judaism has many faces and degrees of religiosity, while being united in common beliefs. This is not an analysis of Judaism in general, but a discussion on the traditions seen in this particular family and community of Anatevka.

Traditions

As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of traditions reflected in this story: Those ordained by God, and those made up by people. The script does not make a distinction between the two, but I think it’s worth mentioning the difference.

The God-mandated traditions are the ones that were established in Scripture from the time of Moses. The ones designed by man happened through the years and have strong cultural roots.

The Sabbath: The show opens with preparations for the Sabbath. The day of rest was most definitely established by God. In the Genesis account of the creation of the world, God worked for 6 days and rested on the 7th. One of the 10 commandments given by God to Moses said to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”. The Jewish nation was strictly ordered to maintain a day of rest, from generation to generation. The purpose of the Sabbath was to 1. provide time for everyone (including servants, slaves, and animals) to rest; 2. have a day dedicated to the worship of God, free of distractions; 3. to point to the Messiah. In fact, from Christianity’s world view, all God-mandated laws were given to prepare the way for Jesus, and in Jesus, all the law is perfectly kept and fulfilled (“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill it” – Matt 5:17). So how did Jesus fulfill the law? 1. By keeping it. 2. By becoming our rest. This sounds simplistic, but it truly is a remarkable, deep truth:

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

Jesus provides rest. This profound truth shows us that in our quest for salvation and in our desire to be right with God, man has always struggled to perform, do good, please a perfect God, and has always failed. Through religion, we cannot possibly reach God, because He is holy and we are not, he is perfect and we are flawed. All our efforts, in the end, are tiring and heavy. So when Jesus stretched out his arms on a cross and died on our behalf, He unequivocally declared that He, the only perfect sacrifice, paid the penalty for our sins. Therefore, we need to struggle no more. We can actually rest from trying to be right with God. We are right in Him. We now please God because we love him, not because we hope He will avert his wrath. It is the greatest of news! And it is most certainly true rest from our labor. JESUS IS OUR SABBATH.

Match-making: Now here we see a tradition that is not mandated in Scripture. This is a cultural custom which in many cases has proven to be very practical (I guess?) Match making is at the center of this story, as one of the traditions that is upheld, almost at the same level of the other God-given laws. We see examples of matches being made in Scripture, but there is no law dictating it as the only way to marry. Tevya’s daughters go against this tradition by choosing their own husbands. Even though he struggles with this, Tevya goes along with their choices (at least with two of the three daughters), proving he is progressive and caring enough to break from his own way of life in order to support and love his family.

Marriage: The topic of marriage is central to the story. Again, marriage is mandated by God back in the creation of Adam and Eve. It is the holiest of unions in the human realm and it is to be highly valued by God’s people. In Fiddler on the Roof, the issue of mixed marriages comes to light. We see in Scripture that God created all races and colors and He doesn’t have an issue with inter-racial marriages. However, it was clearly mandated to the Jewish nation that they were to marry within their own faith. Why? 1. To preserve the worship and the knowledge of God throughout the generations, and 2. Of course, to point to Christ.

First, the Jews were the only monotheistic people group for thousands of years. They were the only ones who had the truth of God in their minds, hearts, and in the written law of Moses. They were to marry each other to preserve and advance this knowledge. In Christianity, we see the same principle at work. God calls us to not be unequally yoked (II Co 6:14). This inequality has nothing to do with race, education, or cultural differences, and all to do with our faith.

Second, marriage points to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-32). More specifically, it points to the relationship between Jesus and his people (the church). What used to be a distant relationship between man and God, worshiping in a temple containing a big, heavy curtain for the purpose of separating man from God, has become a close, intimate relationship. Jesus has drawn near to us, opening the door for us to have access to God. Ephesians calls it a “great mystery”. I am very thankful for this reality. During this Christmas season, I am especially blessed by the knowledge that Jesus condescended and became a human, in order to be like me, make atonement for me, and have an intimate relationship with me.

Conclusion

I am so thankful for the Jewish people. They have been the recipients of God’s covenant and love, as well as His law and prophets. In spite of persecution, dispersion, attempts of annihilation, and hatred, God has preserved the Jews and has been true to His promise.

I am grateful for Jesus Christ, who was a Jew and fulfilled all the laws and the prophets. He has broken the divides that once separated the people of God from all other nations. In Christ, there is no longer Jew or gentile, male or female, master or slave. Salvation is equally available to all, through faith. There is no longer a need to strive to gain salvation, for He has done that for us. He is truly our rest.

Aside from the conceptual analysis of the main themes of this play, I am beyond excited to be a part of it, simply because it is fun and entertaining. And, of course, the music is fantastic! In fact, I need to stop writing this oh-so-long post and get downstairs to my piano to finish studying the music. After all, auditions start tomorrow!

If you live in RVA and want to see this amazing production, you can buy tickets here.

Shalom!

Fiddler on the Roof

Eight Traits That Will Kill Any Marriage

At the young age of 18, I met my then future husband. I fell madly in love, and he felt the same way about me. Within weeks we were engaged and in less than a year, we were married. We were full time students and quite broke. Even though we stepped into adult roles very suddenly, our youth and immaturity was evident as we tried to manage both college and marriage. We were not very good at it and hurt each other deeply. In fact, we were quite unhappy, and to be honest, the only reason why we didn’t get a divorce was because we both believed in the Bible. We didn’t know many things, but there was one assurance we did have: God hates divorce. So, despite our immaturity, unhappiness, endless fights, and financial instability, the word divorce, never crossed our lips. We would stick together no matter what, because our love for God was stronger than our love for each other.

And so we set off to build a family despite our difficulties. We had babies, we worked in ministry, we explored careers, we grew up, and slowly but surely we learned a thing or two about being married and making each other happy. Our marriage is far from perfect, but Juan and I can honestly say we are the best of friends. We have not only survived an unhappy marriage, but we have learned and experienced true intimacy, deep joy, unconditional acceptance, and fulfilling companionship.

I am not a relationship expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I have learned a few things during my (almost) 29 years of marriage. I certainly understand specific characteristics that have the potential to unequivocally destroy this sacred union. Similarly, I understand the antithetical ones that can build and repair it. So here they are:

Eight Traits That Kill Marriage

  1. Pride. Pride says, your faults are bigger than mine; your sin is nastier than mine. Pride wants to be right. It exalts the action over the person. Pride fails to ask forgiveness and refuses to forgive. Choose humility instead. Acknowledge that we all have strengths and weaknesses, and we are all in equal need of forgiveness. Decide to listen and understand over self-justification. Apologize often, and forgive every single time.
  2. Cynicism. Merriam-Webster describes the word as “believing that people are generally selfish and dishonest”. Cynicism doesn’t give the benefit of the doubt. It is the perfect companion to pride. It encourages defensiveness and discourages honesty. Choose to trust instead. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Co 13:17). Take the other at his word, thus encouraging open communication. Ask God for optimism and hope, trusting your marriage can improve, even thrive.
  3. Silence. Lack of verbal communication sabotages growth. Silence speaks volumes, as it is easily interpreted as indifference and lack of desire to connect intimately. In silence there is no conflict resolution, but only fertile ground for misconceptions and discouragement. Choose to talk, and to do so as much as it’s needed. It is the most effective way to know each other, as well as encourage, confront, correct, and enlighten each other.
  4. Manipulation. Its main goal is to control and get its own way. Whether it is through the use of tears, screaming, lying, scheming, nagging, or overpowering, manipulation will kill intimacy, trust, and friendship, without a doubt. A manipulative spouse is not a friend, but a rival. However, patience allows room for waiting. Wait for your spouse to have a change of heart or action. As you train yourself in humility, trust, and open communication, manipulation should completely disappear from your tactics.
  5. Harshness. It is the opposite of kindness and gentleness. Harshness, plain and simply, destroys. Like beach erosion, each wave breaks down one’s dignity. While kindness protects and builds up, harshness lays one bare and humiliates. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov 15:1) Nothing repairs and assures the other of one’s love better than kind words, soft touch, and gentle smiles. Give them generously and expect miraculous results.
  6. Laziness. It is apathy and negligence. Laziness does not make an effort to improve, change, or love. Laziness is satisfied with status quo and is unwilling to do the hard work of marriage. But marriage requires persevering and hard work. It is not for the faint of heart. Don’t give up! If you fail today, you can succeed tomorrow!
  7. Unfaithfulness. It does not adhere to vows and it breaks promises. It comes in various forms and degrees, but it is always wrong and lethal to the relationship. Unfaithfulness is rejection and it builds walls of mistrust. Your eyes, heart, body, and soul are only for your spouse. Do not allow even a hint of unfaithfulness to go unchecked. Even when nobody knows, God sees. So be quick to repent, for God is faithful to forgive. Confess and make any necessary changes if you want for your marriage to stand a chance. Faithfulness is the blood of the relationship. Don’t take it lightly.
  8. Isolation. The refusal of intimacy hardens hearts. Physical, emotional, and spiritual separation prevents healing and becomes most unsatisfying. So choose to never live apart, if at all possible, or even sleep apart. Physical closeness and intimacy should be constant; emotional connection and friendship should be sought after with creativity and passion; spiritual oneness should be pursued at all cost. In order for marriage to work, two people must be one, in every sense of the word.

I understand these negative traits because at one point or another, I have displayed every single one of them and have experienced their destructive power. Dear reader, my hope is that you understand the love and fulfillment that can be possible in a good marriage.

The Secret to a Good Marriage:

GRACE

It’s easy to write about what we, as spouses, should or shouldn’t be doing. It’s much harder to live it. They key ingredient is grace, defined as “unmerited favor”. Grace is the character trait that is willing to hit the reset button, to start again, to give second, third, and one hundredth chances. Grace is willing to forgive and not hold on to resentment. Grace understands that we all wrong others and that we are all in equal need of pardon. At its very core, grace is self-sacrifice. Without it, it is impossible to mend a broken relationship. But with it, all things are possible.

In my own marriage, I have learned to give grace and to receive it. No matter how much I have hurt my husband or how much he has wronged me, we have chosen grace, time and time again. But this grace is impossible to manufacture. You don’t order it in the mail or press the ON button to activate it. You cannot even will it into existence. Rather, grace is formed and matured in adversity and need, when we give it a chance. The truth is that grace is a part of God’s character, and only He imparts it. And He gives it generously and in a timely manner. So if you need it (and you do), ask Him for it. He is not only able to give you the grace needed to love a spouse, but willing and joyfully desirous to do so. It is in the power of grace that your marriage will flourish and be a fountain of life rather than mutual discouragement.

Please let me know if I can pray for you as well. It would be my privilege.

Be Still And Know That I Am God

Today I need an extra measure of faith. Lord, will you grant that to me?

I need to trust your goodness and mercy. Abba, will you help me?

I need to remember that you do not treat me as my sins deserve. I haven’t earned your compassion. You have freely bestowed it on me. My God, will you reveal that to my heart?

Today I must put my confidence in the steady and constant strength of the Lord of Hosts. Father, will you carry me?

I desire the love and comfort that one feels only in the arms of a good shepherd. Jesus, embrace me.

God is my refuge and strength, a every-present help in trouble

Therefore I will not fear, through the earth give way

Though the mountains fall into the heart of the sea

Though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging

The Lord Almighty is with me; the God of Jacob is my fortress

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God”

(From Psalm 46)

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