Tag Archives: faith

Day 28: Embrace the Wondering (31 Days of Simple Truths)

Copy-of-DSC_0677-1024x681Over the past two years, my spiritual journey has taken me to unexpected places—deep into the heart of my own questions, doubts, and frustrations.

It scared me. I’ve watched people “wrestle with theology,” until suddenly, they didn’t want anything to do with God or church or Christianity. I thought I’d made peace with my own questions; I didn’t expect them to re-surface. What had I missed?

I didn’t want to lose my faith, but I couldn’t stop the unraveling. I grabbed hold of familiar truths only to find them crumbling in my hands. Many things I had been taught, had wholeheartedly believed, simply didn’t hold up against the reality I faced.

Several months ago, I wept my way through worship once again. I felt incredibly lost, when I sensed the breath of the Spirit on my heart: Don’t you remember who I am? I’m the One who guides you into all truth. And how do you find truth? You ask questions. I’m guiding your questions. It’s Me.

I can’t describe the burden lifted from me in that moment.

The Holy Spirit guides our questions. Have you ever pondered that? It’s a breathtaking reality. Doubt is not always a bad thing. Sometimes He wants us to doubt that thing we’ve clung to because it’s become entangled with something He never meant for us to be anchored to. Sometimes He wants to unravel our foundations, so He can build better ones.

Today, I’m over at The Art of Fear Not with Tammy Hendricksmeyer, writing about leaning into the questions and trusting the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. Join  me over there for the rest!

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Filed under 31 Days of Simple Truths, Change, Faith

Day 14: Dreams Matter (31 Days of Simple Truths)

Image Source: Unsplash

Image Source: Unsplash

This morning, these words arrested my attention:

“May He grant the dreams of your heart and see your plans through to the end.” (Psalm 20:4)

It’s a beautiful prayer, and I sat with it awhile, breathing it in and out, letting it unfold in my heart.

And I realized that sometimes I’m not sure if my dreams matter if they don’t seem spiritual enough or selfless enough. Would God grant the quiet dreams, the ones tucked away for only me, or the ones that maybe wouldn’t change the whole world but might change my world? Do those dreams matter too? Or do all my dreams have to be big, kingdom dreams?

I’m not suggesting that God is some kind of wish-granting genie. But as I let the verse soak into my soul this morning, I felt wrapped in a whisper from the Spirit that said, “All your dreams matter, Adela. Big and small. Simple and profound. All of them.” 

And the thing is, if I know my dreams matter to Him and I know that I matter to Him, it becomes a lot easier to trust Him with the outcome for all of it. Because it all matters to Him.

So, friend—what dream have you been afraid might be too silly or too small to dream? Go on and dream it. It matters.

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Filed under 31 Days of Simple Truths, Hope

The Battle for Hope (And I’m Still Here)

Image Source: CreationSwap.com

Image Source: CreationSwap.com

Oh, dear blog readers, I’m still here.

I cannot believe my last post was September 15. This might be my longest stretch of silence since I started blogging, and I certainly did not plan it.

There’s this fine line as a writer–finding the balance between not over-sharing but still offering the vulnerability and raw honesty that makes stories powerful. I struggle to walk this line because I do not believe in spewing AllTheThings over the entire internet, but I do believe in transparency and not shrinking away from the hard things.

With trembling hands, can I hold out my messy heart for a moment?

A few weeks ago, I had one of those epiphanies that often comes in the ethereal seconds between waking and sleeping, when your defenses are down and your mind is drifting, so your heart and spirit get a chance to speak up a little louder than usual. I had been so busy surviving, trying to keep my family encouraged and hopeful and moving forward during a hard season, that I missed how deeply my heart was grieving. Space had not been allowed for the processing of some painful losses.

I am used to living with feisty emotions, but the depth of what I was carrying and stuffing deep inside caught me off guard. The processing has been rough. It still is.

2014–a year I held very high hopes and expectations for–has turned out to be marked by four heart-shaking circumstances that have all left their own variation of chaos or hurt in their wake

A prayer we’d been waiting to see answered for five years was seemingly realized for a few weeks, only to unravel into a nightmare. And nothing in my theology or experiences with God prepared me for this. Seasons when He seems silent or distant? Yes, I can navigate that. Seasons of waiting when you’re wondering when He will come through? We’ve gotten pretty good at those too. But when it seems a promise is fulfilled and then it’s not? Ok, technically I supposed stories like Abraham & Isaac & Job should’ve prepared me, but they didn’t. They just didn’t.

How do you navigate feeling utterly betrayed by God? At least there was a point when the prophet Jeremiah cried out, “Oh God, You deceived me and I was deceived.” It’s not really comforting, but at least someone else felt tricked by God and had the guts to say so. But I have walked with God for most of my life, and this has shaken that relationship to its core. In a lot of ways, God and I are beginning again.

During all of this, another decision we had been mulling for several months became clear, and we realized we needed to step away from the church plant we’d been part of for two and a half years. And while I still know in my bones this was the best choice for our family, it has been an enormous loss for me. I loved that church. I invested my heart deeply into that church. I had huge dreams for that church. I saw myself there for many more years. I had relationships I thought would last a lifetime, and instead they are broken or unravelling.

I have grieved this like a death in many ways. It still stings. Even though my children and husband are flourishing spiritually in a way they hadn’t been able to for a long time, even though this decision was made back in June, my heart aches. It is hard to trust that what was best for my family will also somehow be best for me. I don’t see it yet.

We had every intention of moving when our lease was up at the end of September. Our current apartment isn’t horrible, but we don’t love it and only saw it as very temporary. Our kids have been asking for their own rooms and a backyard, and we were really hoping to find a house to rent, somewhere we could settle for a little while.

But the closer it got to September, the more we realized it wasn’t the most practical choice yet. Financially, we would benefit more in the long run if we stayed put another year. Another hope dashed. We’re adjusting a little better to this one, but it’s still hard, especially the closer we get to Christmas. Last year, when we packed up our decorations, the kids and I actually prayed that when we put them up again, it would be in a new house with a fireplace. I’m really hoping they don’t remember that prayer. I’m not ready to deal with those questions.

And the thread running through all these things has been an ongoing health challenge with our little girl. I’ve shared here before about her surgery as a baby and why this is so hard for me. She has a kidney abnormality, and I’ve spent a huge chunk of time over the last month and a half sitting with her through tests and waiting rooms and visits to specialists. The good news is it doesn’t seem as serious as they initially thought; the bad news is there are still a lot of question marks, things we just don’t have answers for yet. So we wait and plan for a few more doctor visits and we wait some more. I don’t know how this story ends yet.

I don’t share all this for any pity or dramatics. I share it because someone else out there needs to know they’re not alone in the unravelling of hopes, in the quaking of faith. I share it because I’ve mastered the art of smiling and looking like we have it together, and I don’t want to be that person.

I share because last Saturday found me locked in the bathroom, sobbing on the floor, everything in me just wanting to give up because it’s too hard and the strain I’m experiencing on so many levels feels too intense. I found myself on the brink of throwing hope to the wind. Do you know what a terrifying brink that is? It almost seems cruel. Because what is life without hope, yet how do you hope when you’ve been met with disappointment again and again? You feel like you can’t win.

And I am telling you, I was completely and utterly at the end of my reserves to muster the ability to just keep going. I do not have it in me. But hope is a powerful force, and sometime it takes hold of you even when you can’t take hold of it. Say what you will, I know beyond the shadow of doubt it was God Himself that picked me up off that floor and gave me enough spark to finish that day. Then the next one, and the next one, and the next one . . .

I think of Jacob wrestling with God and saying “I will not let You go until You bless me.” That is pretty much my only prayer right now–to wrap myself around everything I have ever known and experienced about grace and hope and unfailing love (even if those things feel so hidden right now), to look through the tears and hang on tight and scream, “I will not let You go until You bless me. I will not!”

I realize in deeper ways than I have known before that so much of faith is truly not about feeling, but about choosing. I can choose to let go or I can choose to hold on. One day, I might choose for me. But right now, there are two precious faces that look at me every day with eyes full of wonder and hope, so for them, I choose wonder and hope too.

Can I whisper to you, friend also looking to get up from the bathroom floor and see beauty through your tears, choose hope with me? 

P.S.: I promise to not go so silent again. I have so many things I want to write and share. And later this month, I am celebrating seven years of marriage to the love of my life, and I am going to share both fun and serious things I’ve learned so far. Stick around?

P.P.S.: If you read all the way to the end of this, you deserve a prize. Have a piece of chocolate or glass of wine!

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Filed under Change, Faith, Grieving

Entering in with Trembling Faith

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My Prissy Missy at 9 months old

I cried myself to sleep last night.

Most of my day was hijacked by needing to take my daughter to the doctor, something that pushes me to the brink of my emotions every single time. I don’t handle it well even a little bit. And there’s a reason why.

***

When my baby girl was born, we didn’t get to hold her right away. The nurses had been cleaning her up, weighing her, all the usual post delivery stuff, when another nurse came over to my husband and me and said she needed to talk to us.

I will never forget the fear that gripped my heart before she said a single word.

She told us our baby had a little skin tag at the base of her spinal cord, which could be no big deal and easily removed or could be indicative of spina bifida. Which has varying degrees of severity ranging from relatively harmless to the inability to use her legs. They needed to be very cautious since spinal cords are a pretty serious thing, so they needed to take her immediately for some sonogram pictures to determine what we were dealing with.

And just like that – a huge black cloud over all the joy and anticipation. I was already nervous about becoming a mommy, completely overwhelmed by the whole delivery process and the craziness I was already feeling in my body as the post-birth adjustment began. I remember feeling something go frozen inside me. All I could hear were those words, “worst case, she would not have the use of her legs” and all I could see were all the lovely ballerina things I had set aside for decorating her room. It felt like a cruel trick.

But I mustered up some smidgen of faith, asked people to pray and waited for them to come back and say it was nothing.

We waited for forever, it seemed, before they brought my baby and I actually got to cradle her close for the first time. Apparently she’d been kicking her legs and squirming the whole time, so they were fairly certain movement wasn’t going to be a problem. For now. But still, it wasn’t nothing. My disappointment was intense, but I did my best to tuck it away, to be strong.

What followed were visits from specialists and the process of finding a pediatric neurosurgeon – a practice so specialized that there are only 5 of them within a 100-mile radius of Dallas/Fort Worth. And lots of calls to the insurance company to get it all sorted. On top of the exhaustion of dealing with a newborn who struggled so much to nurse because she did not get to eat for a long time after she was first born.

When she was one month old, we had to take her in for an MRI. And since you have to be perfectly still during an MRI and she obviously couldn’t do that, they were going to have to put her under anesthesia. I was brought a waver specifying all the risks of anesthesia, plus the extra risks of giving it to a newborn, and all I remember is not being able to see as I signed my name, my eyes blinded with tears prompted by the last line of the waver, which said something about “while not common, death is a possible outcome.” It was too much for my new mommy heart.

But I mustered up another smidgen of faith because lots of people were praying that everything would come back normal, and we could finally move past all this, no surgery required.

And so it was with a crumbling heart that I sat in the surgeon’s office for the follow up visit, clutching my husband’s hand, listening to the surgeon explain how she needed the surgery sooner rather than later, before she grew too much, because she had a tethered spinal cord which could either cause no problems or lots of problems and it wasn’t worth taking a chance. I remember my husband saying, “We were praying everything would be fine, that it would be just a skin tag.” And I remember the surgeon’s almost mocking reply: “I could have told you that wasn’t going to happen. I’ve seen plenty of these and they always require surgery.”

My smidgen of faith disintegrated. Why on earth did God not answer this prayer? Why couldn’t He have proved the smug all-knowing surgeon wrong? Why did we have to subject our tiny baby to surgery?

But we did. When she was 3 months old. They had to do the whole thing under magnifiers because she was so tiny. What was supposed to be a two hour surgery turned into a four hour surgery, partly because she was so small, partly because they also discovered a cyst on her spinal cord that they needed to remove.

When we met with the surgeon afterwards, he said the surgery had been successful, they’d managed to get “most of” the cyst, there was only a 20% chance of her spinal cord re-tethering, all we could do now was wait for her to grow.

Wait, what? It’s not over? Just a “wait and see”? They told us potty training would be an important time, that if she struggled to get the hang of it, it would be a possible indicator that all was not right.

I can’t even begin to tell you how stressful potty training was. It’s hard enough as it is – but were the problems normal or due to complications that would mean more surgeries? We managed to navigate that season, but it was not without many, many tears and lots of fear on my part.

***

Which brings me back to Monday in the doctor’s office and me crumbling. They couldn’t quite put a finger on what was going on with her and due to a recent infection she had and her medical history, they decided they’d better order a round of x-rays/tests on her kidneys and other organs. It’s probably nothing, they say, but just to be on the safe side.

And they don’t know what those words do to me. I realize many people have gone through much worse medical issues with their children, at times have even lost their precious treasures in the process. My heart aches for them with a measure of empathy. And just because there are worse situations does not make our struggle any less valid or real – something I am only just accepting and why I am only just able to fully admit my wrestling.

All I want is certainty, to know this issue is no longer an issue, no longer even a faint question mark on the horizon. I want to be able to take care of my children when they’re sick without having to lock myself in the bathroom and weep because I am so afraid.

I’ve been through all the prayer classes and read the books and learned the Scriptures and I know how I am supposed to pray over my children. Full of faith and confidence because ultimately they are God’s, not mine, and He loves them and has a plan for their lives. I try. I do. I declare the things I’m supposed to declare, I reach down deep to find that mustard seed of faith . . . and so many of my prayers for my children end up with me sobbing, pleading with God to please just take care of them, let them be all right. They are not confident prayers; they are desperate prayers.

Because He didn’t heal her before. Because the money for the insane medical expenses was not miraculously provided. Because the surgeon could not say “We got it, she’ll be fine.”

Here is my raw, vulnerable truth: I massively struggle with faith for miracles, especially healing miracles. I work for a prayer ministry, for crying out loud. I hear the voices of a lifetime in church, explaining unanswered prayers as the result of a lack of faith, and I wonder what that means for my prayers over my children.

But then I wonder if maybe, just maybe, God understands my quivering mother-heart. Maybe He sees it as faith that I am still praying at all, in spite of countless disappointments. Maybe He sees it as faith that I keep trying to trust Him with my most precious treasures again and again, even though it is so hard. Maybe He sees it as faith that I am coming to Him every time with all my tears and uncertainty, still reaching and looking for Him in the fog.

Maybe that is faith after all.  So I enter in again and again – into my own heart and into what I believe to be true about God’s heart, that He is far more gracious than we have taught Him to be, that He measures faith far differently than we think. And I wait.

 

*Linking up today with Marvia Davidson for Real Talk Tuesday.

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Filed under Faith, Miracles, Motherhood, Parenting, Uncategorized

Why We Must Ask Questions

IMG1190I have been reading C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed over the last week and a half, and that little book has just about wrecked me. I can’t relate to Lewis’ precise experience; I haven’t lost anyone that close to me.  But there are other types of loss, other deaths, that cause intense grief in us.  This isn’t discussed much, so we don’t always know how to walk it out.  We don’t always recognize the presence of grief or its role as the catalyst in forcing us to face our hardest questions.

And this is what has struck me most and drawn out my reading time of what normally would be an easy book. I am undone by the questions Lewis transparently and bluntly asks about God and his whole spiritual journey.  He doesn’t back down from them or hide them; rather he grabs them and shakes them out and wrestles with them.  It’s breathtaking.  It’s freeing.

I encounter again and again people raised in church or around church who feel like they cannot ask certain questions. Even if spiritual leaders would say, “Of course you can ask questions.  It’s called seeking God,  He can handle our doubts.”  There is still this almost unspoken understanding that the freedom for asking only goes so far; there are still questions you just shouldn’t ask. And if you dare to voice those doubts, those puzzles troubling your mind, you are usually told you are in error or must be in sin or clearly have not been reading your Bible enough or some combination of all of the above. I wish this wasn’t true. But I’ve listened to their stories and experienced my own.  We all have that spiritual leader or friend we trusted and dared to voice our questions to, only to be rebuked or shamed or given some empty trite answer.

(*As an aside, I do need to say, I was fortunate to have two pastors in my life during two different critical, formative periods in my spiritual journey who received and encouraged all my questions, big and small, in those seasons. I am fairly certain I wouldn’t still be loving God without the grace they showed me, and I am unspeakably grateful.)

But here is the epiphany that has come to me as I have sat with Lewis in his grief journey.  The only truly damaging questions are the ones we do not ask of God.  The ones we keep inside because they seem too dangerous, too inappropriate, too unorthodox. These silent questions turn into a slow poison, eating at us, smothering the life in us one day at a time. They are ever present to feed our ravenous fears and doubts and wounds.

If we ever want answers, or at least to be at peace with the unknown when we realize some questions have no answer in this life, we must ask the questions. We must voice them.  All of them. The angry ones. The hurt ones. The confusing ones. The terrifying ones whose answers could unravel everything we ever believed. The broken ones that simply cannot be asked without some swearing and anguish. They don’t have to be asked nicely or neatly or politely. They just need to be asked. Really truly knowing God depends on this unfiltered, unedited dialogue from our heart to His.  I am more convinced of this than ever.

I encourage you – no, more seriously, I implore you – ask your questions. Scribble them into a journal (you can always burn the pages later if you’re worried about someone reading them. Or even if you’re not worried. **It’s therapeutic.) Drive out to the middle of nowhere and scream them at the sky. Pour them out to a trusted friend who will love you no matter what, if you are so fortunate to have one of those. Do it however you like, but please, get those questions out. You cannot possibly shock or offend God with your seeking heart.

I will take my own advice and do the same.

P.S.: I’m sorry I have been neglecting this space a little. It’s a rough season and the words are not coming easily. **Also, I promise I’m not a pyro, but I do find occasional small burnings to be cathartic. 🙂

 

 

 

 

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Speaking About God

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Mommy, a few weeks ago at church, all the kids were saying that God sets us on fire to clean us out.  And I said He didn’t.  I was the only who said that.

Her sweet face looked up at me, those wide eyes seeking to understand.  I hear more than curiosity in her voice.  I hear the bewilderment of being the only one with a differing opinion, the sense of being too little to know how to speak up.  And just ever so slightly, the tinge of fear.  Could this be true?  Would God do this?

I look at this precious one, so like me that it absolutely terrifies me some days, and I begin to explain, slowly, pausing so she can ask more questions if she needs to.  I explain that, no, God is not going to light a match and literally set her on fire. (Lots of relief in her eyes here.)  And I explain that it is a picture to help us understand.  We talk about gold and how it has to be cleaned up and how they use heat to bring the impurities to the surface.  And I tell her how the Bible says God is a consuming fire – a picture for us to understand how He shapes our hearts. (I do realize there is more to that imagery, but she’s 4, so one thing at a time.)  When we come to Him, He helps us remove meanness and selfishness and other “icky things” from our hearts.

I see the understanding set in, and I am about to leave the conversation there when I feel that familiar nudge in my spirit.  What is the one thing above all you want your daughter to carry in her heart all the days of her life?

In a split second, I remember all the years of striving – trying to be pure enough, right enough, worthy enough, good enough.  Somehow the messages of needing to be better outnumbered or at least out-shouted all the messages of being perfectly loved just as I am.  It has only been very recently that my heart has been able to truly understand grace, and even then, it is an uncomfortable process at times to let the wonder and simplicity of it fully consume me.

So I look at my treasure and say, “Do you know the most important thing you can ever know about God?”  I see the longing spring into her eyes.

“He is love.  [Referring to a previous conversation we’d had] Do you remember how the devil wanted to be powerful?  He wanted to be God? [She nods.] The devil doesn’t understand that love is most powerful of all.  And even when you mess up, God loves you so much.  You can’t do anything to change that.”

The smile that breaks across her face is like the sunrise.  And she says, “Let’s sing about love.”  So we do.  And she runs off to play with her brother.

This exchange with my daughter (which her brother also sat there absorbing) has left me thinking a lot about the language we use to speak about God. How much have I said over the years that has actually made people afraid to know Him?  How much have I said that made people feel Christians must have a secret language, one that is bizarre and difficult to decode?

Not that everything Jesus said was always perfectly clear to every listener, but He most certainly was not out of reach to anyone except those ignorantly certain of their own rightness – something I absolutely do not want to be.

So I am seeking a new language, first so I can be a healthy part of the spiritual process for my children, and then so I communicate about Him to the world around me in a way that represents Him as He truly is, a way that brings them nearer to His heart, His “fire” and not farther.

 

 

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When Oceans Rise

I find myself tossed in a tempestuous sea.  My arms are wildly flailing, my lungs are frantic for air.  My mind screams what my mouth cannot: Why?  Where are You?  Will I make it?

You call me out upon the water, the great unknown where feet may fail.

This is not like walking on water.  Peter asked to come.  He chose to step out of the boat.  Not me.  I was on a journey only to find my boat capsized and my survival instinct fighting its way to the surface.

And there I find You in the mystery, in oceans deep, my faith will stand.

Mystery has always seemed beautiful to me, alluring, inviting.  I wanted to chase it, throw myself into it with adventurous abandon.  Oh – to go where no one else has gone and do what no one else has done.  But I suppose some mysteries are more like haunted forests – dark and shadowy, the specters of past, present and future all rising to mock your already shaken heart.  I am forced to choose between what seems reality in front of my eyes or a reality beckoning from deep inside my bones, the place where Your deep calls to my deep.  I choose You, and while the ghosts do not entirely disappear (hopeful for another chance at breaking me), I see them now for what they are – figments of an imagination that is not Yours and cannot be mine if I want to live.

I find You in the mystery.  And the first miracle happens – peace be still.  The storm no longer rages.  The tears become fewer.  The resolve become stronger.

So I will call upon Your name and keep my eyes above the waves.  When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace for I am Yours and You are mine.

But we are still adrift in this unknown, uncharted sea.  I do not see land in sight.  I do not see rescue.  All I have are Your whispered promises and the assurance of Your embrace, which some days I feel much stronger than others.  I cannot fight or I will wear myself out and risk drowning.  I have no choice but to lean into You and trust that You will keep me afloat.  This is all at once comforting and agonizing.  What I see in this vast and menacing ocean stands in stark contrast to what You are telling me is true, to what You are promising me awaits.  One moment, it seems easier to trust You; the next, I am terrified and pleading with my quaking soul, “Be still.”

Your grace abounds in deepest water.  Your sovereign hand will be my guide.  Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me, You’ve never failed and You won’t start now.

The sun sets on the horizon, and the realization sinks in that I have survived another day out here on the open sea.  Oh God, do not fail me.  When will the rescue come?  Dare I admit this – I am afraid.  I do not see a way out.  I see no sign of rescue.  I only hold the hope of land in my heart, the hope of roots and home and provision and calling.  Is it vain hope?  But You say it’s not.  I choose rest.  I choose You.  Oh God, do not fail me.

Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders.  Let me walk upon the water wherever You would call me.  Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.

Some prayers seem so noble, so inspired until you are living the answer.  As I float here, no way out of this ocean for now, I am left to ponder if the songs of my mouth truly reflect the songs of my heart.  This is hard introspection, and truthfully, I have been afraid of what I might find.  The fear is relentless, and I begin to think I must have failed.  Until I realize how my instincts are beginning to change.  At first, when fear reached its poisonous tentacles towards my heart, I floundered and thrashed first before remembering to rest.  But as the days roll by, the instinct to panic lessens and the instinct to lean in close grows.  And I am made stronger in these everlasting arms.

And while I am still lost and uncertain, I know now that cry of my heart is truly to have no limits on how much I would trust You, how far I would chase You.  I do not understand, but I do not want to be confined to the places my feet could discover on their own.  I must have more, must know more.  And if I must drown, let it be into the fathomless depths of Your heart and Your mystery.

I choose You, even as the oceans rise.

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