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

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