Love, for Goodness Sakes… (Thoughts on Faith)

I don’t want to be weak & ineffective. And I do not want to be mean-spirited. Most definitely in my faith. But I find myself caught in between two ideologies & it’s a tough line to tow. On my right, the militant & unashamed, wearing theological combat boots & bum rushing through  a person’s wounds & hurtful history in order to dominate the conversation with their own piety. But of this they aren’t aware. On my left, the blended believer whose faith is so contoured into the universe, it’s hard to know where their feet are planted. They unintentionally coax people into embracing their sickness, often giving no true remedy. 

Honestly, I can only share with others the God that I truly know. During my church’s prayer service yesterday, I heard the following, “Don’t be afraid to talk about my Love.” 

Why be fearful talking about God’s Love? And how are we missing it by dwelling in either of the two extremes: militant Christianity or passive Christianity? My guess would be we are defining Love through our own experiences, rather than through God’s explanation. 

The militant believers are afraid of using Love as the center of their evangelism and theology because it appears weak. In their eyes, it waters down the Gospel, taking away the urgency in the call to repentance. 

On the other hand, the well meaning passive Christians oversell the Love aspect as if God is not multifaceted. They take the compassion of God and dumb it down to the fickle level of human experience. And that would be doing the world a great injustice. My feelings change often. But the way God feels about me never will. It isn’t necessary to be overly emotional to help people identify with this Truth: God truly loves me. 

Romans 8:38-39 sums it up immensely:

“I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If we have an inaccurate view of God’s Love, then we cannot fully grasp the Gospel in its totality. I can have a head knowledge of how sin entered the world or how I need a Savior, or even the difference between good and evil, but if I do not let His Love affect me, to the point that I am fully convinced of it more than anything else, then I run the risk of dwelling in the extremes of my Faith. Either I conjure a emotional counterfeit that lulls the heart into a slumber or I will push potential believers into a corner of self-righteousness. 

God is Love. And He loves you. There’s more, but it’s that simple.

Glory.

We’ve finally announced it.

…I’m pregnant again. 12 weeks and 5 days to be exact. And while this pregnancy has already been so different from my last pregnancy, I cannot help but remember where I was mentally and emotionally 2 years ago.

I remember being excited and fresh. I also remember not being prepared at all for the news we were going to get in 7 weeks. If you’ve been following, you know how it changed us. But God, in His sovereignty, decided to allow us the gift of seeing our daughter be born healthy and fully developed. Not a day goes by where I don’t consider how differently things could have happened.

So.

Here we are again. Armed with more medical knowledge, more hope, and a bit more spiritual vitality. Because we know that if God “did it before, he can do it again”. Prior to my first appointment with my midwife, I caught myself formulating a Plan B for this pregnancy. A safety net so that the likelihood of pregnancy loss or preterm labor would be next to nothing, spiritual intervention aside. And, it just so happens that I am not eligible for this special medical provision.

So.

Here I am again. Warmed by the growing miracle inside my belly & holding on to the only thing I have/need: A Promise. This promise was spoken to God’s people before. It was a promise of being the vessels of God’s glory.

Isaiah 60:19-21

“No longer will you have the sun for light by day, Nor for brightness will the moon give you light; But you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And your God for your glory. “Your sun will no longer set, Nor will your moon wane; For you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And the days of your mourning will be over. “Then all your people will be righteous; They will possess the land forever, The branch of My planting, The work of My hands, That I may be glorified.

How crazy is that? God promised them that they wouldn’t need natural means to see & feel light in their lives. He wanted to be so prevalent in their hearts, that the only illumination they would need to see their way, would come through Him. Their glory would be His Glory.

I want my life’s purpose to be to hold and reveal the Glory of God to others and to be used to encourage and inspire others through it. It’s a humbling thought, because God could have chosen a different platform for me to display his Glory. “Why this way?”, I wonder. When I am tempted to question God’s plan for this pregnancy, I train my mind to remember what’s already been spoken.

…the day I took my pregnancy test, I was alone in the bathroom at home. My husband and daughter were in the living room and I managed to sneak away without having my daughter accompany me, as usual. I wasn’t “late” by extreme measures and I was barely symptomatic. I had a feeling and was curious. The moment the test turned positive, I (almost instinctively) placed my hands across my stomach and prayed.

After my “Amen”, I heard, “Joy. Joy this time around.”

Timing

I remember having a TERRIBLE sense of timing.

When to confront. When to complain. When to begin or end a relationship.

During our dating years, my husband would poke fun at me for having this major flaw. I would deny it, of course, but looking back on it I see that he was completely spot on. Lately, I’ve become obsessed at the way timing plays into my life’s circumstances. No conflict or occurrence is random to me anymore, nor are they without a smidgen of meaning attached. I swear, if I didn’t love Jesus so much, I’d be one of those folks reading the palms and the stars, and instead of Naomi, my daughter would have been named “Serendipity”.

…that does have a nice ring to it though, you think?….

I learned from certain biblical passages (try Ecclesiastes 3, for starters…) that God infuses His purposes and plan for us with both strategy and intention. He isn’t a god who loves anonymity, but He loves to place His signature, with bold strokes and lines — in ink– on our lives. He wants us to know that He’s the artist, the producer, and the author of it all.

He will even risk getting the blame for the bad stuff….because the good stuff is SO. GOOD.

So, I pay extra attention to the order of the story…the order of my story. Because I know that when I do, I will see his signature in plain sight. So plain that it can be overlooked, even.

So, I guess this post will serve as a caution/encouragement: Look up. Pay attention. God is speaking all the time, even when He isn’t talking.

My Little Girl.

I gave birth to my daughter, Naomi, this past Wednesday.

By far, THE most incredible, hardest act that I have and will ever do in life. Hands down. Many people emphasize the pain part, which is definitely noteworthy. But, the amount of focus, patience, and determination it takes to labor a little one into this side of existence is so undersold. There was a split second where I’d actually changed my mind about the whole thing. I wanted to take it all back. It was too great! The whole experience was coming to a head while I labored, and I was overwhelmed by a rush of emotion, pain, pressure, and exhaustion. And no medication was going to make it all go away. It was too late. I was here and I had to do this.

This isn’t an attempt to preach whether I am for natural child birth or medically assisted childbirth, by the way.

…it honestly doesn’t matter, at the end of the day, how your little human being was born. The “how” pales in comparison to all the other aspects, I think. Especially, the “who”. Women are the gateway. Literally. The gateway God uses to introduce life. We spend months protecting and nurturing the Way. We endure tests and examinations where we’re poked, prodded, and sampled. Pregnant women worry over negative anatomical scans, uterine and placental check-ups, and potential health declines. Almost a year’s worth of worry climaxes into a short blink of time (which could stretch up to 48 hours for some women) when labor happens. Biblically, it started out as a part of our curse for disobeying God (Genesis 3:16). But in the light of Jesus’ redemptive power, labor becomes our cause. Simply because God the Father used the processes of pregnancy and labor to bring the world its Messiah. The time that Mary was pregnant with Jesus, she was literally filled with Promise. And the night she birthed Jesus, that promise was fulfilled.

…I understand that, in my own small way…and I think every (pregnant) mother can.

What it is like to hold a Promise closest to your heart, and to trust God with every part of it; both seen and unseen. Known and unknown.

I trusted God to give my little girl life, and NOW I am faced with an even greater act of faith (a daily act, too):

Trusting that God will sustain her life. Believing and claiming that John 10:10 pertains to her as well.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (NIV)

Here she is, guys, my little girl….

Naomi Alese

 

Bedrest: The Comforter

There aren’t many other moments where one can feel more isolated, than laying alone in a hospital bed. It’s difficult, tiring, and almost maddening. My 3 months on bedrest gave me the opportunity to feel utterly isolated. It’s almost like every morning, Isolation & Despair both stood at either foot of my bed, offering me their company for the day. Some days, I would helplessly concede. Others, I would quickly remember that I wasn’t alone to begin with, and their company wasn’t necessary or wanted.

I consider myself to be a Christian; a believer in Jesus Christ. I believe He is 1 part of a Holy Triune God: containing God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. I also believe that God has a desire for us to know Him, each part, intimately. I have communed many times with God as my Heavenly Father; feeling His leading & care. I have also communed with Jesus as my teacher and friend. But to experience the Presence of God, the Holy Spirit, is a definitively unique experience. You rarely forget these moments. I can recall the moment I communed with the Holy Spirit for the first time as a child. I didn’t understand it completely (and still do not to this day), but I recognized it. There was no doubt what I’d experienced.

Laying in bed, there have been moments where I’ve literally felt someone picking me up, rocking me like a mother would her small child. There have been times where I have felt something resembling a cocoon surrounding me; the temperature in the room shifted from the unrelenting chill that isn’t uncommon to a hospital room, to a completely comfortable one. Numerous nurses that I had would comment on how calm & peaceful it felt in my room.

The nights were the most difficult. I feel that it was at those times where I did warfare, and the Holy Spirit would always go before me, leading me through the late to early hours. There wasn’t one night where I felt I was going into the battle alone. Whenever I trekked across the battlefield of my mind, I could picture the Holy Spirit, holding a banner of God high above my head, and fervently running  ahead of me. The most peaceful moments I felt was during the hour when the sun rose, and light spilled into my room, across my bed, and dispelled any and all shadows from my room. Even now, an eventful moment in my day is getting up to sit in our living room to watch the sun make its first impressions on the new day. To me, it signifies Victory. Triumph. Survival from the night.

The Holy Spirit, my Comforter, has carried me my whole walk with the Lord. He has covered, defended, & encouraged me through every hurt & disappointment. And when I think back on this season, His markings are evident. Because there are traces of God’s Glory left behind with each one.

I see more of God’s Glory in my life. In my pain. In my struggle.

And it is because my God is adamant to remain true to His Word, and therefore His promises:

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16

29 Weeks.

3/7/14 2:04 AM

I guess I should start to write all this down…

Having a baby has always been a weighty concept for me. Starting with the delicate age when I officially became a “woman”, as they say. I’d learned in middle school health class, mixed with those awkward talks with my mom, that a woman’s monthly cycle is essential in having a baby. Of course, I wanted a baby. Most females do, right? Who among us didn’t play “house” as little girls; mimicking our own mothers’ bossy, firm mannerisms and domestic chores?

I guess it all came down to being a mother, and not just having a baby.

Beyond the biological means, I felt that bearing children served as a birthright to my gender. A privilege, even.

I now recognize the irony:

…my desire for [natural-born] children has finally taken a backseat to my biological abilities and shortcomings. No matter how much I WANT to bear my husband a baby,

I am still here.

Chained to strict bed rest and nightly medication.

Mentally prepared for my body to signal premature birth, despite how much more time would benefit my little one, kicking naively inside me.

I’m here, at the mercy of biology, and any number of unknown, random combinations of physiological shortcomings.

My intention is not to sound pessimistic. My faith is working harder than it ever has; flexing muscles I had no clue existed. My posture for prayer has changed, metaphorically and literally: I’m forced to go before God while lying in bed (on my left side, of course).

But this is real. And the ending is still covered in a thick fog, because things are still so uncertain. Kept from me for a reason.

I do feel peace more often these days. At first, I thought it was because I’m currently at the point of 95% survival if my baby is born. But it’s not that…

There is only one major truth that has been unwavering since we received the news: God will be with me. Many times, we jump ahead, filling in all the blanks that He’s intentionally left unanswered. And they are all filled with the miracles you’d expect:

…the ultrasound was actually read incorrectly, and I’ll have a perfectly normal pregnancy.

…my body is the rare, dynamic type that bounces back quickly. No medication or bed rest required, after all.

Or….Baby born at full term, completely healthy and normal.

Wouldn’t that be amazing? I know I’d shout hearing a testimony like that in church. Who wouldn’t?

But what about a not-so happy ending?

…baby born premature and needed months in NICU; receiving multiple surgeries and procedures.

…baby born early and grows up with physical or mental challenges.

…baby dies.

I’m sure those words are as hard to read, as they were to type. But what if? Is God unjust or unfair? Did He back out on His original promise?

“I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

The hardest part of waiting to hold my child in my arms is simply this:

Do I want God to give me what I want or what He wills?

My husband and I named her already: Naomi Alese. Granted, we struggled with the middle name, but whenever we refer to her, it feels like we’ve been calling her that for years. Like saying her name out loud will receive an audible response from the other room. We’ve already given her a very significant, open space in our lives. We’ve made room for her, and she fits perfectly. That’s one of the reasons why we want her with everything we have…

…and why it would be painful if God saw fit to take her sooner, rather than later.

But, I am not instructed to know every part of how it’s going to work out. I used to want to know…I remember begging God to let me in on His plan, so that I can stop being in agony. So that I can begin to prepare for what’s ahead. Whatever it is…

…but He isn’t giving me that God-like luxury. And He won’t. A couple of our close friends, family members, and spiritual leaders have spoken that Naomi will be just fine. They look us in the eyes with assuredness and complete hope that we will not endure the pain that comes with losing a child.

After hearing it, I exhale, being extremely grateful that we are surrounded with such encouragement and faith. But, I know that they are not psychic, nor can they see beyond what the hand of God has chosen to reveal. Despite their sense of “knowing”, I cannot replace their comfort with what God has spoken; no matter how collective we are in this desire. The hands of our loved ones serve us daily, and it would be hard to picture my little family making it without them….

But, as nimble and gracious as their hands are, their backs are not strong enough to handle the weight of what my husband and I are carrying. Only God can provide that level of comfort. And He reminds me often that His comfort has little to do with knowing what’s ahead, and more about us submitting totally to His Will:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. “(Proverbs 3:5-6)

Granted, I’m just one set of eyes and a spirit, but I am only able to see two things:

My desire & my biological makeup.

The Lord has shielded me from the rest.

I submit the two every day to the Lord. I pray for Him to surround my desires; protect them. I know He gave them to me for a reason, so I ask that He not allow me to abandon them because I am in pain. Because it would be easier to not connect with my child; to not allow myself to love her. Losing her wouldn’t hurt so much if I didn’t want her. So, I ask God to remove the barrier between us, so that we can enjoy one another fully; beyond our shared body.

Secondly, I pray over my body. I do believe that healing is possible, and that it’s one of the best ways for God to do His work. Consider how untraceable sudden healing can be: cancer disappearing, blood flowing to dead limbs; causing them to move…inexplicable things happen often, and I bet God thoroughly enjoys acting out His glory in this way. Because of this, I believe God’s hands are not bound by sickness and disease. And if I fully recognize that, then I know that He can keep this baby inside me, for as long as He wills, DESPITE my body’s shortcomings. He will either become my body’s strength or enable my body to become strong.

So, I pray in this manner…

Knowing that God hears me and He knows my heart.

And I will lean on Him, so that I may trust Him no matter what the outcome.

Healing For Healers

So many broken hearts.

Working as a counselor, I come in direct contact with so many broken hearts on a daily basis, it can become overwhelming. The hurt and pain that numerous men, women, and children carry around in their souls is unfathomable. Sometimes wounds, decades old, that feel as fresh as the present, weigh down their dispositions, spirits, and strength.

Proverbs 18:14 confirms it, “A man’s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?”

Many times, I feel like I am commanded to become like a bottomless reservoir of hope for the people I come in contact with. On those days, when I come home to face my own despair, I am left to scavenger for a hope to sustain me. I can be emptied out, as a mandate from God, but feel too weak to ask Him to replenish me.

Comfort ME.

Quench MY THIRST.

I’ve spent a laughable part of my life taking care of others’ emotions. I still do in some relationships, placing my own sanity, self-care, and emotions on the quintessential back-burner. There were certain periods of my life where I needed comforting, and I instead sought to comfort. (I bet that my grave’s headstone is going to say, “A Wounded Healer”.) One of the first impresssions that I obtained about God is that He is a Comforter. A Counselor. Because I had plenty vacancies available. There even came a time when I stopped asking for it and rested my outstretched hand at my side. I was already tired, even as a young person. And pleading for rest only made me more exhausted.

At times, I can become angry. Because I entertained the thought that I am to give my best to others, and I’m to settle for scraps. I even contemplated that my Lord is limited in His ability to provide me access to untainted, fresh strength and fortitude.

But, I don’t have to share my relationship with Him. Or wait in line for an audience with Him. He hears me now.

Wants me now.

…because I sure do need Him now. And always.

“And Lo, I am with you Always. Even unto the ends of time.” (Matthew 28:20)

I don’t have to manipulate, guilt-trip, or be resentful in secret towards Him. He not only already knows the depths of my heart, but He actually makes His presence known there.

So, when I spend countless hours a week extending hope, healing, and love to the brokenhearted, I can rest in the security that God is my Source. I will never run dry. And even in the event that I become weary, I have easy access to His heart.

“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” – Psalm 73:26, NLT