Two Kinds of Pain

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” 2Co 7:10

Pain happens. It varies in degree, source, and impact, but it happens. So the question is not how to avoid it but what to do with it.

The Message Bible reads: “Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets.” Wow. So the same pain that causes one to turn to God and see His salvation can cause another to die in a bed of regret. Pain doesn’t magically turn a person one way or another. God allows suffering, even gives it (sometimes generously) for the purpose of drawing me in. So what am I doing with my pain today? Am I seeing it as a precious tool to help me experience the presence of God and the deep and spiritual comfort and growth that only He can give, or am I trying to avoid it, shake it, even dull it? Am I believing that the suffering I’m living through has the potential of deepening my self-awareness, and therefore my walk with God, or am I resigned to hopelessness and misery?

Today I can choose to hope.

In this hope I can take action. This may be a simple prayer of surrender. It could be calling a friend and believing God can comfort me through others. This might be a time to schedule a meeting with a counselor. Let me try opening my Bible, memorizing the above Scripture, or journaling my thoughts and emotions. Today is a good day to forgive those who have offended me or repenting from my sins. Perhaps some yoga or meditation can help me become more aware of myself and sit in the presence of God.

Today I will not regret my pain, but believe it will lead me to salvation.

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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.

Great Friday

Today is like no other day.

Today I remember that all the ugliness of my soul and the sinfulness of my heart have been dealt with.

Even on my best days, I end up saying the wrong thing, thinking the wrong thought, or feeling the wrong emotion. Even when I try my hardest to be a great friend, a loving mother, or a selfless wife, if I’m honest with myself, I stink at it! I fail over and over again, and the more I miss the mark, the deepest my tendency to despair.

There is one thing I want more than anything else in life. I desire great faith. I would like to be a strong believer with great love for God, devotion to his Word, and undivided trust in his sovereign will. But in this I fail as well. I pray little, I read lightly, and I do not believe God when things don’t happen the way I want them to.

But this day I remember that God so loved me, that He gave his only Son,  so that He would pay the penalty for all my faults. I cannot comprehend this love. He, who was sitting in heavenly places, became man, clothed in frailty and humanity. He lived life perfectly, and then, at the appointed time, gave his life willingly. Unlike any other god of any other religion, Jesus became a cursed sacrifice. He received God’s justified wrath for my sins and the sins of the world. The punishment that should have been mine, was taken by another. And now, I walk in the freedom of forgiveness. Such astonishing grace!

Therefore, today I am beyond grateful. I am not condemned, even though I should be. I am not an object of wrath. Instead, I am highly valued by God, lavishly loved, and generously pardoned. And the suffering of this life do not compare to the incomparable riches of his mercy.

Today is like no other day. Today, I receive the comfort of the knowledge of my place in heaven. Today I REST. Today I crawl up under God’s embrace and feel the joy of the salvation he has provided. Today I’m OK with being a sinner, because I am secure in Him.

Colossians for You

May you be filled with the knowledge of his will

Through all spiritual wisdom and understanding

That you may please God in every way and bear fruit in every good work

Being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might

So that you many have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to God

He has qualified you to share in his inheritance and rescued you from darkness

He has brought you into his kingdom where you have redemption of sins

So see to it that no one takes you captive through deceptive philosophies

Do not let anyone judge you based on outward, religious customs

For you have been raised with Christ and your life is hidden with him

Therefore set your minds on things above, not on earthly things 

Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature

And clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience

Bear with each other and forgive each other’s grievances, just as the Lord forgave you

Over all thing practice love, which binds all things together in perfect harmony

Make the most of every opportunity and let your conversations be full of grace

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts and his Word dwell in you richly

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of Jesus

The Book of Colossians

sunset in richmond

New Strength

sunrise

Why do you say, O Jacob

And complain, O Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord;

My cause is disregarded by my God”?

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

The creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

And his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary

And increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

And young men stumble and fall;

But those who hope in the Lord

Will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

They will run and not grow weary,

They will walk and not be faint.

-Isaiah

My Man

Next Monday Juan and I celebrate 30 years of marriage! I can hardly believe it. So it seems appropriate to dedicate this next post in my Tributes series to my man.

I could write a book about Juan, thirty years’ worth! But I will simply honor him for the single most important quality that makes him the man he is. This characteristic caused me to fall deeply in love with him when I first met him, and it is still the strongest draw I feel towards him even today. Juan has matured and changed during the course of our marriage, but this single trait has endured and remained constant throughout. I am so very grateful for this.

Juan’s deep and unwavering love for God is his most attractive quality.

It was probably during our third or fourth date that Juan and I sat side by side to journal our prayers to God. He kept a notebook where he would pen longings, dreams, desires, and fears, while pouring out his heart to the Lord. I loved, loved, loved this about him. Today, I still get up in the morning to find him doing the same thing. Another page in another notebook. Another prayer. Another verse. Another breath of hope and comfort as he fellowships with the Spirit. I love, love, love this about him.

Throughout the many trials and suffering we have lived through as individuals, as a couple, or as a family, Juan has never second guessed the goodness and far-reaching love of the Father. While I have questioned God’s purposes, presence, or care, Juan has remained steadfast in his belief in the sovereignty and love of God, without question or hesitation. In the loss of a job, the frightening prognosis of health, the rebellion of a child, or the experience of depression, his default has always been to run towards the light of God, never from it. In desperate times, Juan has kept me steady, directing me to find hope in the right source.

Juan has had an unshakable love for me and our children. In spite of the fact that in our human frailty, we have misunderstood and hurt each other, his love for God has prevailed in all and through all, moving him to forgive, repent, display grace, and move forward. He is filled with incredible hope and optimism, not because he looks at people or circumstances, but because he fixes his eyes on Scripture.

Juan has been a firm rock and a steady source of security for me, for 30 years. I am looking forward to continue to love him and be loved by him for the next 30. I count myself blessed by God for giving him to me.

 

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

When Change is Hard but Necessary

I have a confession. I tend to be fatalistic, especially when it comes to change. I can perfectly hope and see that change is possible in others, but when it comes to me, and when it involves transformation of character, I struggle to believe that it is possible. But it IS possible, and today I am speaking to myself.

Change is hard, but not impossible.

Change is hard, but is necessary.

Change is hard, but required.

The type of transformation I’m talking about is the growth that must occur in all of us, in character, mindset, and actions. This growth demands a continual laying down of the old self and the putting-on of the new self, and modifies us, making us more and more like Jesus. The biblical term for this is sanctification. It cannot occur without the aid of the Holy Spirit, because it is supernatural. Yet, mysteriously, though it comes from God, it does involve an active part of our will and desire for change. It is a cooperation, of sorts, of our willingness and obedience, and the power of God.

But like I said, my default setting is to be fatalistic. It’s a lack of faith, really, to think that I can’t change, that it’s too late, that I’ve lived one way or another for too long, that there is no way back, that my habits and impulses will remain the same, no matter what I do. This type of thinking is completely devoid of God! How can I believe I can’t change? Have I not the presence of God himself dwelling within me? Have I not the promises that He will do this in my life, as I yield and surrender to his will for me?

When I succumb to this negativity and lack of trust, I am assuming that: A. God is not able enough, B. Change is optional, and C. The Bible does not apply to me.

So here, today, in writing for all my readers to see, I preach this to myself:

A. God is more than able. “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Co 9:8)He does not spare his grace nor withhold his power from those who need it. If we seek, He said, we will find, for “You know how to give good gifts to your children, so how much more will your father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Lk 11:13)

B. Change is required. Sanctification is not optional, for “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” (1 Thes 4:3). It will happen either in gentle, steady, and slow-moving transformation of character, or in jolting, difficult, sudden change. One way or another, sanctification can and WILL happen in the life of every believer. The degree of alteration varies from person to person, but God will never give up on his people and will always desire and produce good fruit. Therefore, the idea that it is too late to change, should not be part of the Christian’s belief system.

C. The Bible is always applicable. If I avoid change, I am also ignoring the process God is calling me to embark in. When God says to “put to death what is earthly” (Col 3:5) or to “walk by the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16), He is commanding me to be actively involved in the process of sanctification. When God declares that I am “His workmanship, created in Jesus Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that I should walk in them” (Eph 2:10), I can rest assured that I am not alone in this road of change, because this is part of his pre-ordained call for me. All of God’s Word applies at all times, both his commandments and his promises. I am not exempt of either one. I am not the exception to the human race. Change is both promised and required in the book that God himself penned, therefore it can and will happen.

So enough with the “it’s too late” or the “I’m set in my ways” or “there is no hope for me”. Be done with the pity parties, the victimization, and the pessimism. Yes, change hurts, but not only is it possible for God’s children, but it’s also good, pleasing, and God-glorifying. It’s time to accept it, embrace it, and allow it. Be humble, aware, and decisive about seeking God’s Word, praying, receiving counsel, and gaining wisdom from others. It’s time to desire change with passion and discipline, and to do anything necessary to attain it. (To read more about responding to God when He convicts us, click here)

jude 1:24-25

For Laura

Entry No. 4 from the Tributes Series

I have so much to say about my dear friend, Laura. I’m having a hard time condensing it all into one reasonable post. She is just that amazing!

I met Laura many years ago through homeschooling. She was the one who introduced our family to speech and debate, which ended up becoming a huge part of our lives. Laura is persistent and persuasive when she really believes in something; Thus, she insisted that we attend a conference. We did, and the rest is history.

Laura is one of those women who seems to know everyone and loves to connect people with people, as well as people with causes. I discovered this early on in our relationship, so whenever I organized a speech and debate tournament, I delegated all the PR to Laura. Let me tell you, no one can recruit judges like Laura can! The politicians who came to her door promoting themselves for the next elections, had no idea they would end up judging a round of debate the next day. But she had her way of persuading them, and sure enough our beginner debaters were being adjudicated by congressmen and mayors!

Laura has strong convictions and pours herself out wholeheartedly for the things she believes in. She is a strong believer and loves Jesus passionately. She believes that the Gospel saves and that people need to hear it. She unashamedly pursues unbelievers in order to share her faith with them. She was a missionary in Guatemala many moons ago, and now a missionary in her own city. I just love that about her.

Her love and service of others is simply outstanding. Yes, she is a loving mom and a wonderful wife, but more than that, she befriends anyone in need of friendship and nurses anyone needing care (oh yeah, I didn’t mention she is actually a nurse and she has helped me a bijillion times with all my health consultations 😉 )

If I ever need a friend, I know Laura is just a text away! She will lend me a listening ear, and she will also tell me her opinion plainly and simply. She’s a no-nonsense, down to earth counselor, and she’s not afraid to speak the truth. Her love is evident, and she follows through with much grace.

Laura endures hardship with strength and optimism. Auto-immune disease, loss of job, career change, and other difficulties she face are not enough to sway her from her steadfast joy and hope in her God. She doesn’t crumble under pressure but becomes a problem solver. She is not only self-motivated, but creative and resourceful. And when she finds something good, she gets everybody to join her! She can’t eat wheat. No problem! She finds a million recipes for delicious gluten-free foods. She discovers a fun way to exercise and soon enough her entire neighborhood joins Zumba classes. She can’t practice nursing any more, so she becomes a great salesperson (something she thought she would never be able to do) and she recruits like a pro! And hey, why not do some Uber driving on the side?

I admire you, Laura. I deeply appreciate your friendship and I love you very much. When we are old and… OK, I was going to say wrinkled, but with that Nerium you sell, that may never happen to you ;). Anyway, when we are really old, let’s move to the same community (Cristen, Leslie, and Carmen, you come too!). You can make your amazing chips and salsa, we can go to adapted Zumba-with-walkers classes or stroll together every morning, like we used to do at the lake, except a lot slower. Then we can visit in the afternoons and I can help you practice Spanish so you don’t forget it. Our kids all love each other, so when all 7 visit, we can have parties with lots of Ecuadorian/Guatemalan/Japanese/Cuban/gluten-free food. It will be a blast, I tell you 🙂

2 years ago when she visited me in RVA and we went to Maymont

2 years ago when she visited me in RVA and we went to Maymont

At Les Miserables :)

At Les Miserables 🙂

Laura with her man :)

Laura with her man, at my house, in some sort of a party…

Laura and Cristen cleaning the house I was moving into

Laura and Cristen cleaning the house I was moving into

<3

I Am Joining the Lamentations 3 Challenge. Will You?

Once and again I read an article that hits me right between the eyes; You know, the deeply convicting kind. The article that I’m about to share is one of them. And by convicting, I don’t mean that I see what I’m doing wrong and feel guilty about it. I mean that I realize what I’m missing, and want it. My soul yearns for it and calls me to take action. The Spirit moves me to thirst for it, like a deer panting for water.

So, dear reader, here is the challenge I propose:

  1. Read “Six Wrong Reasons to Check Your Phone in the Morning” from Desiring God, by clicking here. Read the article in its entirety. Don’t cheat. Just do it, and then come back to this blog and read the remaining points.
  2. If you long to experience the steadfast love of God and taste his new mercies every morning, then make a commitment, along with myself, to make time for reading Scripture and prayer before checking your phone for notifications, emails, news, or any social media. This may mean that you keep your Bible on your night table, in the bathroom, or breakfast table. In my case, I often tend to read Scripture from my tablet or phone. But since I don’t want to see any notifications before I actually read my Bible, I will only use the actual book (you know, the one with pages made of paper).
  3. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. Well, how about we triple that to make sure it really, really, really sticks! How about a 2-month challenge! I’m starting it tomorrow morning, and so can you. Whenever you read this blog, you too can begin.
  4. If you “like” or “comment” in response to this blog, I will add your name to my prayer list. I will pray that God helps you start and keep this commitment, and that He will establish this pattern as a life style for both you and me. I will appreciate your prayers on my behalf as well. If you share this on social media, use the hashtag #Lamentations3challenge, so we can keep track of each other.
  5. Relax and rest in the Lord. This is not an all or nothing pledge. God is full of grace and understanding for when we are unable to keep our commitment. He is sovereign over emergencies, change of schedules, young children who demand attention, sickness, and even our forgetfulness or mismanagement of time! If you don’t keep your end of the deal, pray and start all over again. Even if we are not faithful, He always is.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him. The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:22-26)

Lamentations 3