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

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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.

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I Think I’m Coming Out of this Fog

I haven’t blogged in weeks. Months, I think. I have been sort of drowning in emotional spaghetti, not knowing how to sort what I feel from what is real and good and right. Not that my life has been awful. Not at all. I enjoy so many good things, I consider myself fortunate! But there are times life is harder than others, as far as emotions go. For me, transitioning from raising kids to empty nesting has been particularly taxing. I have found myself having existential crises, bouts of tears, fabulous pity parties, and a marked inability to sort out and understand myself.

But the last few days have been helpful. I took my dear Gabriel on a short trip to Miami to visit friends and family. Now that I’m back, my non-working hours have been filled with news from France, discussions of Syrian refugees, and passionate exchanges of ideas (freedom of speech rocks). Work is always a safe haven, and lately, I have been studying and preparing for my upcoming show. So I found myself thinking outside of myself today. Yay!! I can sit and write with semi-intelligent verbiage, I am not crying nor am I feeling sorry for myself, and I finally realized that Thanksgiving is coming up in one week!

God is kind to me, always. Today I thank him for the many good gifts he has lavished on me: My incredible family, amazing friends, a fantastic job, His sustaining Word, and the joys of rest, fun, and travel.

I have no idea how I will be ready for Thanksgiving, but I am deciding not to stress about it. I have so many things to be thankful for, and by golly, I will celebrate next Thursday with my loved ones, whether I get to cook or not, and whether my house is impeccably clean or barely tolerable.

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