Friday, December 31, 2010

"Brighter Days Will Come"

My mom was once dumped by a guy who, after breaking her heart, offered her the callous (and egotistical) consolation of "Brighter days will come." That line has survived as somewhat of a family joke during hard times, providing much-needed comic relief. Though, whenever it's said, deep down I kind of hope it's true.

I have wrestled with the fact that there are no "guarantees" in this life. Some people emerge from trials with stories of victory, and others continue to struggle and endure difficulty all their days. It's ok for me to ask God to deliver, but the fact is that he is God Almighty, sovereign over all creation (including me), and it may be his will for me to remain in difficult circumstances while I continue to trust Him.

As the new year of 2011 approaches, I'm torn between fear and hope. Will things get better, worse, stay the same? Are there any guarantees left in this life?

As I watched TV the other day, I heard a preacher refer to Ephesians 1:13-14:

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

What I love most about this verse is that it doesn't offer false hope. It's not that God "might" bless me or "perhaps" things will get better. No. God the Father who sits on the throne of Heaven has given me a very personal guarantee - proof of his love - a certain sign of what is to come. And this guarantee is not a vision that someone could misinterpret or a letter that someone could fake.

When the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, the most important part of their identity was having God dwell with them. Moses said that they could not move forward unless God went with them (Exodus 33:15). When I read this, I realize that I take for granted the awesome gift that God now sends his Spirit to dwell in each believer. I don't need to go to a temple to seek him in prayer. I don't have to find a priest who can go to God on my behalf. Because of Christ's sacrifice and the gift of the Holy Spirit, I can now fellowship freely and continually with holy God. I also receive an iron-clad guarantee from God that I will one day acquire a mind-blowing inheritance - inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. (1 Peter 1:4).

That passage of 1 Peter reminds me that though I may suffer here for a while, the testing of my genuine faith glorifies God and is of greater worth than gold. It's important to keep my eyes on the prize this new year. In 2011, there may be great triumphs or more dark valleys, but the Lord God is with me every second and has given me a guarantee - that by believing in his only Son as Savior, my marvelous inheritance is signed for, I've been sealed, and now I'm just waiting for delivery.

For those who accept God's offer of his Son, it is only a matter of time before the brightest days do indeed come.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Encouraged (and Giveaway Winner)

I was deeply touched to receive this comment from a reader last week. It was a difficult week for me physically as well as emotionally, due to illness in my family, and the power of that person's encouraging words brought tears to my eyes, renewed my strength, and made a big difference in my life.

Over the next several days, I received five other messages out of the blue that lifted me up as well. I could feel God's comfort through the loving words of others.

Today, remember that God uses us as his conduits to bring compassion and love to the lives of those who are hurting. Don't underestimate the power of a kind and healing word spoken at just the right time. You just may be God's messenger of hope for someone battling the darkness.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

**Anonymous - Please contact me with your address at colorsofqavah (at) aol (dot) com so that I can send you the book "Perfect Trust." And thank you for your message of hope and encouragement!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Anxious Thoughts (and a Christmas Giveaway!)

During a particularly anxiety-ridden night earlier this week, I prayed for comfort in the lonely, dark hours of the early morning. I suddenly remembered a particular book called "Perfect Trust" that I heavily relied upon for comfort years ago, so I pulled it off my shelf. The little book is by Charles Swindoll, and though it is tiny (a bit larger than a 4x6 index card), the words in it are mighty, powerful scriptures combined with just the right encouragement for a hurting, troubled soul. I thought I would share a passage that particularly helped me:

You may be going through some of the hardest days of your life. You may be wondering Why? Why me? Why this trial?

James wrote to Christians who were enduring great persecution. They were probably asking those same questions. He answered them in this way. "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12). He was saying that when you persevere through a trial, God gives you a special measure of insight. You become the recipient of the favor of God as He gives to you, and those who suffer with you, something that would not be learned otherwise.

That word persevere is very important. It's an archaic word and we don't hear much about it in our day of bailing out and giving up. We don't hear much about hanging in there and persevering...about staying power! But there is more to it than merely enduring. It's one thing to stand grim-faced, tightfisted, and staring at God with anger, saying, "How DARE YOU! What right do You have?" or "Look at what I've done for you! And look at what I get in return!" That's one kind of perseverance. But there's another kind. The kind that stands with an open hand and open arms, that looks into the face of God and replies, "I submit myself to You. I'm trying hard to hear what You're saying. I wholly and completely admit my dependence. I've run out of answers. I'm waiting."

You may be going through a trial so overwhelming that it's borderline unbearable. You want to see the end of the tunnel. Which is only natural, because once we see that little speck of light, we feel we can make it through to the finish. But God's tunnels are often twisting, too complex and dark to see the light for many days. In such settings He says, "In that dark, twisting, seemingly endless period of time, trust me. Stop running scared! Stop fearing!"

This message reminded me that in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, God repeatedly asks me to trust Him and wait with hope and expectation. He assures that at the end of that long, dark wait, there will be great reward.

As a special Christmas gift, I will be giving away one copy of the powerful little book "Perfect Trust" by Charles Swindoll. Just leave a comment below, and I will use to choose a winner on Friday December 17th.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mythbusters Tornado Shield

As a kid, I was always fascinated by tornados. Ok, it was more utter fear than anything. But now that I'm older, shows like Storm Chasers on Discovery kind of intrigue me. I mean, the whole premise is people purposefully driving as close as possible to the biggest tornados they can find. Now that's worth watching.

Imagine my delight when I saw one of my favorite shows (Mythbusters) team up with two of the Storm Chasers crew in order to test how their vehicles would fair in maximum tornado-force winds. Tornados + Science + TV = DVR this now.

After the TIVs (tornado intercept vehicles) were tested in up to 250 mph winds behind the jet engine of a 747, Jamie and Adam from Mythbusters attempted to construct a "personal tornado shield" for protection outside of those specialized SUVs.

The shield had to be portable, so at first glance, it looked like a flimsy tent with some panels on the front. Jamie crawled inside to test his invention, and this video shows what happened:

When he emerged after surviving 180 mph winds, he talked about the raw power of the wind, how terrifying it was to be in the dark, and feeling like he was being beaten. Yet, the shield was a great success, having withstood the intense force of the jet engine at full throttle.

It occurred to me as I watched that this experiment illustrated a greater truth than just how much wind a man can endure. During this time of intense trial and spiritual attack, I've found that I don't stand a chance against the storms that rage against me unless I have a shield to protect me. My church recently taught a vital series on the armor of God, reminding me of how the Bible equips me to withstand the powerful attack of the Enemy.

Hanging on for dear life, I cling to my shield of faith, trusting that no matter what debris comes flying my way that I can withstand the hit. Having faith in Christ doesn't necessarily take away the feelings of powerlessness, fear, doubt, or even physical suffering, but what it does do is cover me with peace that doesn't depend on circumstances. It gets me through the trial intact, as a survivor.

When you are suffering strong storms in your life and it feels like God is letting Satan push that throttle forward so that you can't stand on your own, remember to cling not to what you feel but to what you know - the truth of God's Word. Trusting the Bible relentlessly through trial is what anchors us to the Rock of Christ, our foundation.

Through faith in Jesus and relationship with him, he gives us his strength to endure, enabling us to withstand far more than we could by ourselves. With His protection, when the wind is finally shut off, we will be led home safely, intact, as blessed survivors.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.
The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Matthew 7:24-27

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Love's Painful Wait

Well over 6 years ago, I was badly bitten by a dog while pet sitting. I washed the bite immediately and called someone to take me to the ER. I had to wait for a long time before I was called back to be seen by a doctor, and finally I was treated and sent home.

However, the bite was deep, and the long wait combined with the wrong antibiotic had allowed a serious infection to develop. My entire hand was red and swollen, the knuckles barely visible. When I visited my doctor afterward, she was alarmed and put me on two antibiotics. I was ordered not to return to work or school, to keep my hand elevated, and to call her if the swelling spread.

I could not see any positives in this situation. The medications disturbed my sleep and gave me a rash. I got behind on all of my lectures, missed band rehearsals, and most of all felt mad that this one stupid incident was costing me weeks of productivity.

Looking back on that time now, I can see that it wasn't worthless. Because I was up late with nothing to do, I began talking online (typing one-handed) with the man who would later become my serious boyfriend. And as we discussed faith in depth with no time constraints, God used that time to begin to move his heart. Just 2 months later, he dedicated his life to Christ.

It's now easy for me to see that not only was God doing great things for his kingdom through my temporary suffering, but he also was doing great things for me.

It's interesting for me to see that Jesus has a habit of allowing temporary pain for a greater purpose.

When called by a man whose daughter was dying, Jesus stopped on the way to heal another woman who had a chronic illness and was in no danger of death. When he finally arrived at the house, the man's daughter had died. Jesus was late.

When Jesus was called by his dear friends Mary and Martha and told that their brother Lazarus was dying, Jesus again took his time. When he finally arrived to meet them, Lazarus had been dead 4 days. Late again.

In my own life, I cry out to God in prayer so often for him to help me with my physical trials, with my emotional distress, and when he doesn't relieve these issues or deliver me, I feel what these people must have felt - not only the deep anguish of my losses, but also the grieving disappointment of Jesus not loving me the way I expect him to love me.

But what I realized as I read about Lazarus today is that Jesus makes me wait BECAUSE he loves me. The wait through pain is an expression of his love.

The reason I know this is because of 2 verses in John that at first seem paradoxical:
"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was."

I had to re-read this several times and check my study notes. Sure enough, the notes say:
"So, therefore" shows the reason why Jesus stayed...He allowed his friends to go through the sorrow and hardship of the death and mourning of Lazarus because he loved them and wanted them to witness an amazing demonstration of Jesus' power over death.

He loved them, so he had them wait.

In my mind, this makes no sense. If I love someone, I want to be there to make everything better, to soothe, to take away the pain as soon as possible. In my human realm of thinking, pain is to be avoided at all costs.

But in the Kingdom of God, pain is not the ultimate evil to be avoided. Death and eternal separation from God is the worst possible case. Whenever Jesus can use circumstances to bring people to saving faith or to deepen the faith of those who believe, it is worth the temporary pain that may take place. It is worth the wait.

As I wait through a number of difficult trials right now, I can be tempted to see this as callous and lacking compassion. I cry out over and over to God, and yet he does not move to relieve my suffering. Through this story of Lazarus, I can be assured that as long as my pain remains, there are necessary and high-stakes eternal implications for it. But what about how I feel emotionally? Does Jesus care?

His response is to weep with me. When Mary confronted him (as I so often have), he "was deeply moved in his spirit." My Bible says this word for deeply moved is used here twice for how he feels and nowhere else in the entire New Testament. It was a "profound sorrow at the death of his friend and at the grief that his other friends had suffered." Jesus cries honest and genuine tears of sorrow when we are waiting in faith through pain. He cries with us and is deeply moved by our prayers. He intellectually understands the big picture and why we have to wait, but his emotions are with us in understanding the grief we must endure in the process.

It is the end of the wait that makes his love not late but awesome. When Jesus went to the tomb, he cried out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out." And after 4 days dead in the tomb, Lazarus walked out alive.

And that other man's daughter who died before Jesus arrived? Jesus raised her from the dead too.

If your circumstances look dead, if your wait seems long and cruel, if God does not answer you with deliverance when you ask, know first and foremost that he loves you. He loves not in spite of the waiting but he loves you with, through, and during the wait most of all. It is his plan to bring about glory for his kingdom and also to deepen your faith and bring blessing to you.

Know also that he cries with you. He himself has suffered brutality and can empathize perfectly with you. He is deeply moved by your cries and your disappointment expressed honestly and openly to him.

And most important of all, know this: "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.' "

He has the power to raise others from the dead. He has the power to raise himself from the dead. And in the last day, he will raise the whole world with just the sound of his voice. Jesus is the resurrection. He is the life beyond the grave. By believing and waiting on him, we set ourselves up to see greater things than we could ever imagine. He hasn't just come to bandage up the broken pieces of our lives. He has come to give us new life in Him.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Better than a Buick

Just today, I was watching Ellen. She was recognizing someone who had done a lot of good works in the community (who herself had very little to live on and was asking for help). When the woman got called up on stage, it was very moving because this person who had worked for a long time without recognition was finally receiving reward. I saw her receive a new car, and then when they came back from the break, she also received 10,000 dollars. It reminded me of this verse:

"If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"
Matthew 7:11

I thought, if a mere human can reward another human for good works so richly and extravagantly, then imagine the gifts we will receive from God for doing his work in his name and asking him for help.

It's a challenge for me to remain encouraged when I feel as sick as I have the past few days. I seem to repeat the familiar chronic-illness-cycle of pushing too hard and then paying the price. I get discouraged because my emotional ability to cope well with my family's ongoing struggles is eroded by my physical weakness. At my sickest, I also feel the most powerless, the most irritable, and the least effective for God.

The reward on this TV show today reminded me of how long we sometimes have to labor quietly in dark times before we receive blessing for our obedience. If you are struggling alone and feel like you are not making progress in your trials, be encouraged by this quote from George D. Watson (a Wesleyan minister from the 20th century):

"The Lord may let others be honored and put forward while keeping you hidden in obscurity because He wants to produce some choice, fragrant fruit for His coming glory, which can only be produced in the shade."

Though we may feel that nothing is changing in our circumstances, we can trust God to grow the fruit of his character in our lives as we quietly wait and labor for him.

“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,

no mind has conceived

what God has prepared for those who love him”

1 Corinthians 2:9

Thursday, October 21, 2010

When God's Not In A Hurry to Fix It

I confess that sometimes I can have some really negative thoughts about people getting quick, miraculous answers to prayer. I just finished reading the book "At Home in Mitford," which is about a fictional pastor in a small southern town. The book is comfortable to read because the problems that occur are resolved in a fast, tidy way after asking God for help. The lost boy was found, the kidnapped dog came home, the young sick woman got a heart transplant. I could go on, but those are enough spoilers.

My impression while reading the book was one of vague annoyance at times. "Real life doesn't always work like this!" I thought in my heart. My own family has been suffering for years, and God has not fixed this! I finished the book, and before Bible study yesterday, I cried out to God something like this:

I know you love me and you're faithful, but it's so hard for me to keep going like this. I get so weak seeing my loved ones suffering emotionally and physically. I can't fix this, and I'm waiting on you to do it, but you're not moving! Please come. Please help me. Please show me what to do. I just want to hear you speak.

More than the words, it was the emotion that streamed out of me to God, opening up and pouring out what I keep pressed deep down inside. I try to seal up my painful feelings so I can just cope day to day.

I watched the video at Bible study last night and took in the practical teaching about spiritual warfare. I was reminded that the Enemy is the ultimate counterfeit and has a plan for my life to try to tear me away from God, make me doubt Him, and erode my faith and trust. It alerted me to how much I have to be on guard to protect my faith during this time when I am so prone to discouragement and despair of God ever moving in my circumstances.

When I began my first reading for the week this morning, I was face to face with a lesson all about my feelings of discouragement with God. The lesson covered David fleeing from Saul and giving up hope of surviving. He said in his heart, "One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines."

The study then pointed me to Psalm 10 where David pours out his heart to God in much the same way I did - asking God why he allows wicked and arrogant people to succeed and seems to turn a blind eye to evil. When God's not in a hurry to fix our difficult situations or stop evil, what are we supposed to do?

David, a faithful man who spoke from experience, laid it all out:
"But you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
you consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless."

The victim (the helpless) commits himself to God. This is a decision of the will that no matter how bad things get, my allegiance will not waver. I must be "all in" with God, daily renewing my commitment to Him rather than yielding to my own anger or fear.

This psalm says that God does three actions for those who come to him hurting:
1) He hears the desires of the afflicted.
2) He strengthens (encourages) their hearts.
3) He inclines his ear (listens) to their cries.

Since we have a good God who knows our desires, encourages us, and listens to our cries, we have to keep going in the face of not getting what we expect. We have to love him for who he is rather than what we receive.

At the end of the lesson for today, Beth Moore suggested two verses to give both hope and direction when we feel like life will never get any better. Here is what we are to do when our problems aren't getting fixed:

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."
Galatians 6:9

"So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good."
1 Peter 4:19

The repeated call to commit to God and do good during long times of suffering is my battle plan from God's Word. I must daily wake up and commit my heart to the Lord. I must actively seek out ways to do good to others. By doing these things, I keep my heart from soaking in bitterness, anger, and self-pity, and in the process, I defeat the devil by blessing other people and bringing God glory. I don't do good to earn God's love and approval or to bribe him into helping me. The work I do is out of love for my Master who first loved me. I must work with a fully surrendered spirit, trusting that he will do what is best for my life and that the best may hurt for a time.

It's Spiritual Survival 101 - Commit to God and Do Good. Let's not grow weary as we wait expectantly on the Lord who saves.

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.

Lamentations 3:25-26

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Ever feel like walking the path of faith is a monumental struggle?

Do you feel weak and overwhelmed as you try to hang on to God through tough times that never seem to end?

Here is an encouraging thought about faith from Jan Karon's book
At Home in Mitford:

"I've never been one for physical exercise," she said, "but what God does with our faith must be something like workouts. He sees to it that our faith gets pushed and pulled, stretched, and pounded, taken to its limits so its limits can expand."

Thursday, October 14, 2010


While I was watching TV tonight, I saw footage of one of the Chilean miners emerging from the rescue capsule for his first taste of fresh air in 69 days.

As he embraced his wife and the crowd cheered in loud cries of victory, I could feel tears begin to well up in my eyes. The power of that moment was profound. Reporters claimed that there were no dry eyes in the media area as hope for each of the 33 trapped lives was fulfilled one by one.

It occurred to me as I watched that I feel a similar sense of wonder when I see a birth or a baptism take place, and as I thought about it more tonight, it makes sense why. The mine collapse is a tragedy that is strikingly symbolic of the broken condition of our world. The fall of mankind has been trapping all who ever lived on earth in the web of personal sin and in the sins of others. We all fall victim to the domino-like consequences that bind us in illness, broken relationships, fear, insecurity, and feelings of hopelessness. As we wrestle to break free ourselves, sin just seems to entangle us more. The harder we try, the more we fail. In the darkness, there is no way out.

That is until the drill breaks through from the surface, and the path to life becomes possible for us. Jesus broke through into this world when he was born, and like that precious rescue capsule "The Phoenix," his death and resurrection offer us a safe transport to the surface. If we get in and take that ride with him, we transfer from certain death to life.

When I think about the unimaginable suffering that those miners endured, it's a powerful reminder for me to give thanks to God, not only for the miraculous rescue of all 33 lives, but also for the even greater rescue effort God has put into place for each of us living in this broken world today. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera spoke about the impending rescue in language that mirrors the rescue mission of Christ:

"It will be a true rebirth, not just for the miners but for the spirit of unity, strength, faith and hope they have shown our country and the world."

When we choose to turn from our sins and follow Christ, we experience a true rebirth into eternal life that can never perish, spoil, or fade away. If you haven't yet chosen Jesus as your savior, consider the words of one young trapped miner who pondered the reasons for his 69-day suffering:

"God wanted me to stay here, I do not know why.

Maybe for me to change."

I don't always understand why God keeps me in a place of hardship, but I do know that God is working on changing me. God often wields suffering as a tool to get our attention before it's too late. Though we are trapped in a world that is filled with sorrow, hardship, evil, death, and pain, be assured that God's Spirit is working a rescue mission that is first spiritual and invisible but will soon become physical. We may not see it now, but gradually, he works to bring about change in our hearts so that we turn ever more toward Him. Remember that though you walk in darkness now, the rescue from death to life is only a prayer away.

Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."

"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"

Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. John 3:3-5

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17

Picture from
Quotes from

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Skinny Mitten

This weekend, while I organized some of my knitting projects, I dug into an old bag buried in the back of my closet.

I peered inside, picking up the handle of the worn and crumpled plastic with care. Multitudes of old paper yarn wrappers spilled out, and as I prodded a bit further, I saw the fuzz of an unfinished blue mitten weighing down the bottom of the bag.

Now, a little background about this mitten: It was made during the period of time shortly after I had gotten sick/disabled. I was trying to find something to do that would distract my whirling mind but not make demands on my broken body. It just so happened that I had been taught to crochet some basic stitches a few years before, and so after a scarf or two and a few squares for a baby blanket, I decided to try my hand at a "useful" project. In order to do this, I needed to ramp up my skill level to "mitten." At the "mitten level," I imagined myself cranking out multitudes of soft pairs of perfect mittens for all my friends at Christmas. After all, how hard could it be to make a mitten?

I plunged into Project Mitten full force. I began with a ball of the softest blue yarn I could find. It was fuzzy, twisted, and a deep sapphire color. Unfortunately, each stitch with this yarn was a battle. I couldn't keep my hook from snagging and tugging every few stitches, and because the yarn was so fuzzy, I had trouble seeing what I was doing. It made counting and following the pattern very difficult. However, I stubbornly pushed forward in my quest for making a legitimate article of clothing.

This, of course, proved to be ill-fated. Much to my chagrin, as I donned the mitten in preparation to sew up the side, it extended far beyond my fingers yet could barely close around my palm. It was the longest, skinniest, ugliest mitten I'd ever seen. I even tried it on my grandma who has the slimmest hands of the family. I'm pretty sure she laughed when she saw it.

There I was, stuck with a blue, bulky, cumbersome mitten that couldn't even close around my hand. I had just poured hours of blood, sweat, and tears into this useless thumbed garment, and I was faced with the dilemma of either making a second disfigured twin to match or to attempt an altogether shorter mitten which might fit properly but sadly would not match the first. The third option (that I felt unmentionable at the time) was to rip the whole thing out and start again, but after all my toil, I just couldn't face starting once more, and besides, I didn't think the fuzzy yarn would retain its integrity after being subjected to my inexperienced crochet hook again. I did the only logical thing.

I stuffed it in a plastic grocery bag, forgot about it, and made my friends little scarves instead.

So this weekend (about 4 years later), as I gingerly pulled my decidedly sad blue friend from the bonds of crumpled plastic, I recalled the history of the skinny mitten and decided that enough time had passed for me to say farewell. I considered tossing it in the trash, but for some reason, ripping out the yarn to use again seemed like more humane treatment for something that had required so much of my precious energy. I began to wiggle the loose strands in order to start the process of pulling out the overly tight stitches. It unraveled like a cap gun the faster I pulled. Pop, pop, pop went each stitch as I wound the yarn around my hand.

As the ball over my fist grew bigger, it suddenly struck me how sticky and cheap the yarn felt to the touch. It was as if strands of chemicals were leaving a residue on my fingers. I marveled at the fact that I had once considered this the "softest" yarn around.

Sometime after the mitten fiasco, I remember stumbling into a yarn store where my friend led me to my life-changing encounter with natural fiber yarn. I had at first dismissed this idea as boring since the yarn wasn't available in flashy colors or laced with fringe, sparkles, or ribbon. However, I later agreed to try it. The incredible softness and ease of use converted me on the spot. I finally saw the light of how much better natural fiber yarns could be. Instead of struggling with each stitch of acrylic yarn, my projects with genuine wool became enjoyable and fun.

As I disentangled the old, sticky, mitten mess, I suddenly saw an example of how easy it is to settle for (and even adore) an artificial substitute when I haven't yet tasted the real thing. When I started crocheting, I had never been exposed to natural yarns. I didn't understand the difference between yarn that came straight from a sheep and strands from a chemistry beaker. Now I can tell the difference instantly, and it's a big difference.

I have a history of settling for artificial substitutes in other areas of my life too - like the many years I indulged in processed foods and high-sugar snacks to boost my mood instead of "boring" whole fruits and vegetables. Food packed with nutrition was the real thing, but I passionately preferred that which was man-made. In settling for the fraudulent delicacies, I was cheating myself out of feeling better simply for the sake of instant gratification.

Of course, most importantly, I see the same parallel spiritually. I'm guilty of looking to the "artificial" here on earth to fill my needs. Like with the acrylic yarn, I once ignorantly settled for entertainment, achievement, affirmation, and relationships to keep me feeling good, pushing God to the side where I could fit him in. Even as a Christian, I didn't understand emotionally that Jesus is the true source of all comfort, satisfaction, acceptance, and love. I kept looking for these things in people and experiences, not realizing I was just setting up idols for myself.

What changed me is that ALL of those artificial substitutes failed to comfort me when troubled times hit. I had to find better answers because of the deep pain. Suffering through trial has forced me to recognize the impotence of my substitutes and to seek an emotional connection with my Savior Jesus, who sustains me and gives me genuine joy.

When Christ comes back, all the worldly things that we lived for here will be destroyed. Jesus will remain, and those who choose to trust him will taste eternal life. On that day, no substitutes will do.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
1 John 2:15-17

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hungry for More

I'm now about 2-1/2 weeks into my new low-carb diet recommended by my doctor. I'm past the intense sugar cravings, and I've settled into a kind of protein-veggie rhythm, punctuated by sweet potatoes and unsweetened yogurt.

It's been a curious experience to reroute my appetite like a riverbed. My once bread-based diet has changed, and the benefits are noticeable.

One change that has surfaced above all else is that my overwhelming desire to feel better has trumped the once captivating allure of comforting desserts. It's become much more important to have a deeper level of constant well-being than to settle for the highs and lows of blood sugar spikes and crashes.

Realizing this has given me more resolve to continue with my treatment plan and to stick to a diet I once thought I could not maintain for more than a day or two tops.

This deeper level of physical peace is very similar to the deeper level of spiritual peace that God is trying to teach me. Today, I read a short article on the "Desiring God" blog called "The Sin of Not Wanting Enough." The heart of the article is that we need to want more from God than just the circumstantial comforts of health, well-being, and a pleasant life. Like sugars, these things are wonderful and satisfying for a time, but when they don't last, the cycle of high-then-crash can be painful and rocky.

When it comes to desiring God, we have to desire him for who he is - his truth, his promises, his saving grace. When we hunger for Jesus and take him in regularly through reading his word, we maintain our "spiritual blood sugar" and can have peace in all circumstances, even during the most distressing and terrible trials. Jesus provides long-term comfort that does not fade or wear out.

I have to be real and admit that in my humanity I spend a lot of time praying and hungering for better circumstances, for a "normal" life, for happiness that is due to what's around me rather than what's inside me.

Reading this quote today reminded me of where my heart needs to look in order to be anchored and how powerful I can be when Jesus gives me peace that can't be shaken.

By faith we are comforted that all things, no matter how painful or sweet, will work together for our good, reaping eternal benefits that are so wonderful that they can’t even be compared to our grief (1 Peter 1:6, Romans 8:28). True faith believes that God is good and rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6).

If as Christians we are called to endure difficult trials and yet always receive temporal blessings like health and safety, our peace could not rightly be called the “peace that passes understanding”. It would actually be quite reasonable.

If you hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are you! (Matthew 5:6)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Weak in Battle?

While doing some studying yesterday, I came across this verse which encouraged me.

"For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him."
2 Chronicles 16:9

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sweets Surrender

My doctor recently advised that I temporarily cut carbohydrates out of my diet. No fruits, grains, or sugars. This sounds simple until you try it. I have never before in my life realized how much I depended on bread, pasta, cereal, and desserts to get me through each day.

And as for the advice that drinking more water helps fight off sugar cravings? It's bogus.

I am fighting a battle constantly to overcome my desire to blow my diet and chow down on a piece of cake, warm toll-house chocolate chip cookies, brownies...heck, at this point, I'd settle for a bowl of oatmeal.

And it's only been one week. One week!

While eating every fathomable combination of meat and vegetable, I've had a lot of time to think about my craving for sugar - how I gravitate toward carbohydrates for comfort and how I don't like the feelings of deprivation that this diet brings. In some sense, I feel more in control by squashing my low blood sugar, eating more nutritious foods, healing my stomach. But in other ways, I feel this is one of the more frustrating limitations stacked on top of so many others in my life right now.

With chronic illness, it's easy to be focused on what I *can't* do. Being limited and restricted compared to others my age is the name of the game. In some sense, I've grown use to it, but when a particular restriction (like no sugar) prevents me from doing something I desperately want to do, it hits me in a weak spot. I tend to lash out and have a temper when I feel out of control, and yesterday was no exception. I was overtired, lonely, and hungry for just a taste of what I used to eat all the time, but I was faced with a choice - to take the doctor's advice and try to keep going, or to give in to my craving.

I'd like to say I took the high road, but I ate a soy dessert bar.

Today, I woke up and figured I might as well have a few chocolate-covered almonds since I'd broken my streak. I just barely stopped short of eating more than four, realizing I wasn't going to make my failure worse by opening the floodgates.

Struggling against my craving for sweets can be brutally difficult, especially when I falter like I did yesterday. But it comforts me to know that I can start over today. I don't have to give up completely. As a perfectionist, that's a classic excuse of mine - "I already failed, so I might as well throw it all away." In order to fight that, I've had to cling to the promise that through faith in Christ, my failures are all washed away - my temper, my mistakes, my bad attitude. Repeated new beginnings are so important to persevering. Whether the struggle is with illness, a job, maintaining a diet, or surviving a tough patch emotionally or spiritually, it seems that stumbling in the pursuit of a better life is part of the process. Right now, I'm learning that truly meaningful victory is composed of a series of failures and new beginnings, not a long run of perfection.

Monday, August 2, 2010

"How" not "If"

I discovered a new cool show called "The Universe" on the History Channel. Mike and I have been watching a few of the episodes lately. It is a series that explains scientific theory about various aspects of the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe itself. For me, there are always surprises when watching a show like this. For example, I learned that the center of our galaxy is not a star or a planet but, in fact, a black hole. There are geysers of water on one of Saturn's moons. The show is just a series of incredible and fascinating facts.

While getting my hair cut recently, I was talking about the show with the stylist who cuts my hair. A space enthusiast himself, he eagerly described one of the episodes I had not seen. As we continued the discussion, he began one sentence by saying, "If there is a Creator..."

These days it's not uncommon to run into someone who doubts that there is a God who created space, time, matter, life, and all that we see and experience. It still throws me off a little though to hear someone so enthralled with science and the intricacies of space questioning the source of the detailed intelligence that holds it all together. I wince a bit when I think of that word "if."

However, when I think back to the times when I have been the hardest pressed emotionally and physically, the word "if" often stirs up doubts that have long settled to the ocean floor of my soul. It takes a life-altering event like an illness or a tremendous loss to stir that sediment up until I'm disoriented, sitting in a mess of cloudy, murky water. "If God loved me, wouldn't he have protected me from this?" "If God was all powerful, wouldn't he have intervened by now?"

And those questions are where I lose my footing a bit. I have had more than the average number of trials for a person my age, at least for someone in America. It's kind of understood that you'll have to endure challenges in life, but like a roller coaster, there are expected peaks after the valleys. There is an expectation of hands to hold through the darkness until it's light again, not abandonment by those you counted on the most. It's almost socially unacceptable these days to walk through a trial for years without end. People start thinking that maybe there's something you're doing wrong or something you did to deserve it. Maybe you're being overly dramatic or things aren't as bad as you make them sound. It's even harder when the trial isn't a common one like a broken bone or a lost job. When the suffering is long and when it's not well understood, it's easy for faith to weaken, to wobble, to start wondering "if" God is really there, "if" God will really come through, "if" you might just not make it.

When I read the Bible this morning, I was reminded of two people who had very unusual experiences in their lives, and one of them wondered if God was really going to pull through for him, while the other person saw it was impossible and believed God for it anyway.

I have a soft spot in my heart for this story because the second person, the faithful one, was a young woman. The first person, the one who asked for a sign and doubted initially was a priest - a well-respected man. These two stories are told back to back, I think, in order to emphasize the contrast in response to the life-altering news they had just been given.

Zechariah was an old man, a priest, childless, and had just been going about his duty in the temple when an angel appeared to him and told him he was going to have a very special son - the man who was prophesied about in Isaiah as the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah. When Zechariah heard this, instead of believing his old and barren wife would miraculously conceive a child as he had been told, he said: "How shall I know this?" He still didn't buy it. The angel made him temporarily mute "because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time."

The second story is about Mary, the young virgin mother of Jesus. Presented with an even more impossible-sounding message, Mary learns from an angel that she will become pregnant with a child who will be the Messiah. Instead of questioning the veracity of the message, she instead merely asks out of curiosity how God will accomplish this miracle in her. "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel explained to her the details, and later Mary was praised as "blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."

This verse made an impression on me as I read this morning. I thought about the promises of God for my future, to never leave me, to guarantee a place of rest and reward for patient endurance through trials, and it occurred to me that my mindset is so often tempted to wonder "if" God will really carry through on his promises instead of "how" these things will take place. It's a humbling reminder to consider Mary's faith in light of the humiliation and complete isolation she'd be forced to endure as an unmarried pregnant woman.

In the midst of circumstances that don't make sense, I'm encouraged to not waiver in my belief that God will do what he has promised concerning justice, redemption, healing, and grace. By his grace, I have a place in his house someday soon, and by his sacrifice on the cross, I have mercifully been given a place in his family. When God asks me to go through the unexplainable or unimaginable, I want to be humbly obedient like Mary who said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Battles Not Yet Won

One of the side effects of my chronic illness is a disrupted sleep schedule.

"Disrupted" is a polite way to put it. "Completely screwed up" is probably a bit more descriptive.

The way it works is this: No matter when I fall asleep, the next day I always need to fall asleep a little later. The result is that my "nighttime" migrates (cycles) around the clock. I will sleep during the night like a normal person for about a week, but progressively, I will begin sleeping into the morning hours. As time passes, I will eventually be sleeping fully in the afternoon, and so forth, back to an early evening bedtime again.

For example, yesterday, I fell asleep at 2 PM. Today's bedtime will likely be at 4 PM. This is caused by a disruption of my circadian rhythm - that finely balanced cycle we all take for granted to make us sleepiest at 4 AM and most alert at noon. I've tried 1,001 ways to fix it (one attempt which landed me in the ER), but ultimately, following my unnatural rhythm has been the only way to have any hope of functioning. Granted. I lose a week or so every month to sleeping through days, but those nights can be quite productive.

Since I can't keep a normal routine from day to day (such as scheduling regular morning devotions or taking a quick walk every day before dinner), I have had to be a bit more creative in the "good habit-forming department," otherwise good intentions go flying everywhere like bowling pins once my circadian rhythm rolls into a new week. Today I got up at 10:30 PM, ate "breakfast," did some gentle yoga, and showered. I then started my makeshift day with a chapter of scripture.

Still in the early chapters of Deuteronomy, I have been reading the final sermon from Moses to the Israelites just before he died. His last remarks are to review with this new generation their covenant with God and their mission: They were supposed to go in and take over the Promised Land. a nation, they didn't have such a great track record when it came to trusting God to provide in overwhelming situations (kind of like me). Instead, they preferred to focus on their problems, complain, and basically tell God he should have just left them in slavery (the equivalent of yelling "I wish I'd never been born!" in nation language). The last time they were told to go in and possess their land, the description of their enemies was so intimidating and discouraging that they just freaked out, sat down, and gave up.

So Moses knows that this second time around (about 40 years later) is really important. Confronted with the same daunting enemies, will they run in fear or will they trust God? As the previous generation of unbelievers had passed away, God had preserved the nation by raising up their children, now grown, to march in and receive the land the nation should have had decades earlier.

Moses knew this was a time for encouragement if ever encouragement was needed. Their enemies were still as big and intimidating as ever. Feelings of fear and inadequacy were bound to surface in a people who had been living as nomads for 40 years. There had been a lot of suffering, a lot of death, a lot of waiting. Focusing solely on their present situation, it would be easy to get dejected, asking "What if we just can't do it?"

What struck me as I read last night was how often I ask that same destructive question - "What if I just can't do this?" When big fears come into play, my first reaction is to take stock of my own resources and see that I'm woefully lacking. Being chronically ill means my emotional and physical reserves are already bordering on "empty" a lot of the time. Looking at my energy gauge and then seeing the daunting journey in front of me can give me a feeling of complete inadequacy and hopelessness. How do you drive down a long desert road with no gas in your tank?

It's easy from my perspective to knowingly shake my head at the fear of the Israelites. I mean, I've read the whole story. I know they go in and live in the land. I know how it ends. Imagine if an Israelite from Moses' day had my perspective. No sweat. He'd wave the complete Bible around and yell, "Here it is in the book, guys! We do win after all!" They would waste no time charging in and taking each city.

I imagine I would have that kind of bold determination too if I could see my life written out. I'd march into victories a whole lot more confident. I'd stand a little taller. I wouldn't be so afraid. Isn't that what we all want? Isn't that why fortune tellers and astrologers are so popular? If I could just KNOW that I'll have a child. If I could just be SURE I'd get a job soon. If I could just catch a glimpse of a time when I will be healthier. If I could see this situation resolved or this person saved by faith - then I could rest a little easier at night in the midst of this battle.

But just like God does not reveal to us the specific details of our journey, God does not show the Israelites their outcome either. They never see the nation of Israel under King David or the temple built by Solomon. Instead, when they fear the most, he gives them this instruction:
If you say in your heart, "These nations are greater than I. How can I dispossess them?" you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out. So will the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid.

The command is: Remember. Remember it's not about your weakness; it's about God's strength. Remember God's past acts of faithfulness. Remember he is Creator of the sun, the moon, the stars. Remember he is in charge over all life. Remember he is personal. Remember he intervenes for us. Remember he delivers. When I fear, I must remember God's spotless reputation for caring for his people.

A few days ago, I was spending some time writing out a short version of my personal story of how Jesus has changed my life. Once I started to write, I realized that I couldn't fit all of God's goodness to me in one short essay. There was SO MUCH Jesus had done in my life that I wanted to write it all. I came away from the experience with a rather condensed and stiffly written testimony but a heart full of renewed confidence, having remembered all of God's past acts of faithfulness to me.

As I reflected on the past, my faith in Jesus, and how God has proven himself over and over during the hard times, it occurred to me:

The curious thing about looking back and remembering Jesus on the cross is that it's really not looking back at all.

The reality of the cross is that we are looking forward. We are looking toward the time when Christ will come back again. We are looking forward to our healed bodies. We are looking forward to our complete victory over sin and temptation. We are looking forward to never again being enslaved, intimidated, discouraged, or afraid. By looking back to remember Christ, we inherently remember that we have a future.

During a late-night exercise session this week, I was listening to "Days of Elijah" (on my playlist at right) and was moved once again by the triumphant lyrics. As I sang and walked, I felt tears sting my eyes - not of sadness and defeat but of such unspeakable joy. For at that moment, my soul was remembering the great and glorious future that is yet to come. My deliverance from the problems in this world seems long in coming, but I have a Savior, and he reminds me to look at him and keep on walking despite the pain. I need only remember, the Promised Land is not that far away.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Who is your King?

"We are witnesses."
"Lifting the curse."

Sounds like I'm talking about... a certain basketball star?

Religious language has consistently surrounded one particular sports celebrity because of his tremendous athletic ability and potential to bring victory to a struggling city. His move to a new team, announced tonight, is making big waves.

When I read the outraged reactions of scorned fans ("you are dead to me"), it reminded me of how deep and penetrating our hunger is for God, yet how we fill it with idols like this talented man.

A long time ago, I heard a sermon illustration that made me cringe. A pastor admitted that he once got so thirsty when he was a boy that he bent down and slurped the water from an oil-slicked puddle in a parking lot. His thirst had driven him to drink dirty, contaminated water in place of the real, pure thing.

This powerful (and gross) example shows the depths to which we as humans will sink to quench our thirst. Even stronger than our thirst for water, however, is our driving need for love, for victory, for someone to save us.

I have settled so many times for idols that did not deliver - friends, love, academic achievement, even strangers that I admired. I put my hope for happiness in people and things that were never meant to bear the weight of that hope. I talked to a friend this week who knows he has placed his hopes, his worth, and his value in the hands of the wrong group of people, and yet, he can't seem to break free.

Whether it's a political figure, an athletic star, or a music legend, there is no one on earth who can deliver what we need deep in our souls. There is no husband or wife, no child or parent, no pet or movie or habit or food in the world that can feed what we need inside, what we hunger for so desperately.

These outcries I've read from devastated fans who've lost their "king" are symptoms of a much more serious thirst - the deep need for a real Savior who has the power to truly save, for The King of kings who has eternal and lasting authority. Looking for your hopes and dreams to be fulfilled in a sports championship is like drinking from a puddle in a parking lot. We were built to drink in so much more than that - to fellowship with God of all creation through a living, daily relationship with Jesus Christ, champion over sin and death itself.

Today, as I read about Jesus making his final journey to Jerusalem before his death, I caught a glimpse of the kind of hero I've been searching for all my life. Not only had he determined with resolute strength to endure unimaginable suffering for my sake, but he so firmly determined it as to "set his face like a flint." I love that description of him as it calls to mind a man so full of strength and power that all the evil forces of hell and suffering and death could not shake his confidence. His love was so strong for me that he resisted every ounce of his humanity that must have screamed for him to turn back.

Not only this, but as he drew closer to his certain betrayal and brutal execution, he paused because a man in distress cried out in faith, asking for healing. In all that he was facing, he never lost his patience and compassion for the lowest of the low in society or for the sickest and most disabled.

If that wasn't enough, he had the power to perform miracles. And just as he healed the blind man that day, he used that same awesome power to endure what no other human could, bearing the weight of all sin and rising from the dead to stand alive outside his own grave.

He did this all to save you and to save me.

Now, that's a King truly worthy of praise. Do you know him?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Delay is Not Denial

Recently, I made a decision to pursue healthier eating and more consistent exercise.

After a visit with my doctor, I was convicted that I needed to take my eating choices more seriously and to make exercise even more of a priority. My doctor suggested that I read a book called "Anti Cancer" which was written by a doctor/scientist who himself had beaten brain cancer and a relapse. The author (David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD) explained some of the subtle and easy changes that can be made in order to live a healthier life and to make the body a less hospitable cancer host.

Although I don't have cancer, improving the way I eat and live will bring me positive results in the long run. I have only one body here on earth, and I have a responsibility to take care of it now so that in 20 or 30 years I will be less likely to develop any number of conditions - diabetes, heart disease, and cancer included.

Because of my toxic mold and pesticide exposures about 11 years ago, I already know that I have a higher chance of developing cancer than the average person. Being in an environment where I breathed carcinogens and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that affected my immune system and my nervous system caused me to have a number of symptoms indicating my exposure had reached toxic levels.

I suffered from extreme fatigue, swollen and sore lymph nodes, mental confusion and disorientation, constant dizziness, nosebleeds, disequilibrium, inability to multitask, frequent urination, severe gastrointestinal distress, weight loss, headaches, severe muscle aches, muscle twitching, sore throats, irritability, memory problems, and the need to sleep constantly.

During that very dark time, it was hard for me to be around even the most "innocuous" household chemicals. My system was overly sensitized and reacted to things that don't bother the average person. I felt sick from pesticides sprayed in grocery stores and movie theaters. The herbicides used by neighbors or around school would disable me completely. My environment seemed to set me off no matter where I went. Perfumes, cigarette smoke, even the detergent aisle would make me sick.

I've come a long way since those years of early chemical sensitivity through avoidance and slow recovery over time. It has been hard for me to accept, but the damage has been done, and my autonomic nervous system does not function like it should. This damage is a long-term consequence of events that happened years ago. Though I did not have control over those events or their consequences, I do have the power to make healthy decisions now that will positively affect my future.

In the past week or so, I have cut out most of the sugary desserts I used to use as comfort food. I have sought out organic fruits and vegetables as a snack rather than just grabbing whatever carbohydrate is nearby. I am also learning the powerful effects of antioxidants like the ones in green tea. Even though my illness prevents me from overdoing it on aerobic exercise, I have looked into stress-relief yoga and tried various DVDs from the library. I am trying to walk more often and stay consistent with taking my vitamins. I realize that all of these choices are small and rather inconsequential now, but they add up over time.

It's funny to me that this weekend, even after all of the healthy food and yoga attempts, I still felt terrible. It's hard to do the right thing and still get unpleasant results. Often, that's what determines our will to go on, the strength of our perseverance and desire to succeed. Can I overcome that hurdle to keep making healthy choices? Or will I go back to a hit-and-miss lifestyle of doing and eating what feels good in the moment?

I think spiritually the same theme applies. I am making choices daily to cling to God. I exert my will to seek him out in the Bible, to worship him through finding praise songs to sing, to listen to sermons online even when I can't be at church, and to pray regularly, pouring my heart out to God. I believe that these are the decisions that keep the soul from succumbing to the toxic spiritual exposure of living in a godless world - a world that wants to do what feels good now without regard for what will happen after death. How easy it is to be lulled into the false sense of security of this life that seems to go on day after day without end. How easy it is to subscribe to "if it feels good, it must be right."

But God commands us to live a different way. Moses was commended for his faith because he chose "to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeing pleasures of sin." Whenever we obey God's word over how we feel, whenever we do the right thing and show compassion rather than judgment, whenever we cling to Christ rather than caving to the world, God sees it, and he rewards it.

I am encouraged today that even though I have not yet seen the realization of my answered prayers, I know those blessings are coming down the line. He blesses the man and woman who wait on him, who cling to him, who daily make the tough choices to keep going even when the immediate results don't seem fair.

Keep going on your journey with Christ because God's delays in reward are not his denials. In fact, His greatest rewards for us have yet to be seen!

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"
1 Corinthians 2:9

Friday, June 18, 2010

How Long, O Lord?

I was inspired by these two quotes from the D. A. Carson book "How Long, O Lord?"

"To walk into the unknown with a God of unqualified power and unfailing goodness is safer than a known way."


"What is clear is that it is in extremity that many Christians drink most deeply of the grace of God, revel in his presence, and glory in whatever it is - suffering included - that has brought them this heightened awareness of the majesty of God."

Lord, trusting you in the dark and praising that you draw me close through pain - these are my challenges, and yet, also my greatest comforts.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Malware on my Mind

As I type, I'm waiting for "Malwarebytes" to finish scanning my computer. It's been over 1 hour and 17 minutes. Still counting.

While I was working today, a fake anti-virus alert (saying it was from Windows) popped up on my screen suddenly. When I tried to open my security software or search Google for info, I found that the malware had blocked both avenues of help. I was also seeing "alerts" constantly warning me of fake threats manufactured in order to scare me into giving out financial information to buy false protection from the malware site.

I used another computer to research the specific tactics of this malware: Deception, blocking help, and fear. As I read, it occurred to me just how universal these evil principles are.

Facing temptation to linger in anger or to dwell on discouragement are attacks that I face fairly regularly. Dealing with these temptations is a challenge, but knowing the intricacies of how they work will help me to defeat any attack the devil wishes to launch on my life.

When I consider the deception of a temptation, I am reminded that the Bible warns "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light." It is my job to be on guard against ideas that look and sound fairly safe but will really lead me deeper into sin. It may sound good to say, "I have a right to be angry!" But ultimately, if I let my anger get the best of me, then I have lost self-control and lost the battle against sin. In order to be victorious, I must guard against philosophies and ideas that sound good but are not biblical.

In order to be able to recognize the dangerous, deceptive ideas that infiltrate my thoughts, I have to be rooted in God's word and in prayer to get help. Temptation will always attempt to block my access to God's help. Just like the malware blocked the helpful tools on my computer that would guide me to remove my problem, temptation can block off my prayer life and my time in God's Word. Feelings of weariness, discouragement, or anger can make me not want to pray. In my despair, I am tempted to leave the Bible unopened. "What good will it do anyway?" I often wonder. When I do that, I put myself in the weakest position possible because I can't get the help I need from God. Persistence and determination to find helpful guidance from God are the only ways to succeed against such an attack.

Finally, the tactic of fear can paralyze me and render me completely vulnerable too. When I am attacked with fear about my future, there are two things that can happen - I either shut down and become paralyzed by my fears, making me unable to act, or I get so flustered that I act rashly and impatiently, leaving no time for wisdom or for God to work. When under temptation, panicking is highly dangerous and can quickly lead to either foolish action or, worse yet, no action at all.

My malware attack was defeated by guarding against deception, determining to find access to help, and not letting fear motivate me into making rash choices or taking no action at all. Now, several hours later, I finally have the option to "remove selected" threats from my computer. The same can happen spiritually when we guard against the devil's reasonable-sounding lies, determine to walk with God daily, and decide not to let fear rule our decisions. Relying on the Lord will give us the victory in every battle, no matter what.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Growing Season

It has been a while since I've written, but it hasn't been because of any extraordinary event. Instead, it's been a series of life moments.

Coping, resting, struggling,
exerting, enjoying, recovering,
praying, escaping,
working, worshiping,
crying, surviving.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

It's a struggle to maintain my faith sometimes when I face so many physical and circumstantial challenges. The simple act of sleeping is a huge problem for me, and just getting myself out of bed when I wake up can be a big achievement. I find my hope waning when I am eroded by challenges that never seem to end, and I cry out for God to help me endure, to help me to get through these trials in a manner pleasing to him.

A couple days ago, I read about Jesus describing the slow growing nature of the kingdom of heaven by comparing it to the earthly concept of farming. He said:

"The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest had come." ~Mark 4:26-29

Each night and day, I sleep and rise, waiting and watching for God to move and act. I wait like a farmer patiently waits for his crops, realizing that the control is not in my hands.

I think that there is not much excitement or prestige in seasons of waiting. It's a quiet time if you are just a casual observer. Not much happens on the surface. But tiny blades of grain popping up from the soil attest to the fact that there is powerful life at work beneath the surface.

As God uses painful circumstances in my life to shape me and grow me, I'm finding two things:
1) I don't know how to make this process happen on my own. It is God who labors to change and grow my faith through these trials that he allows.
2) The process of growing and waiting is so painfully slow at times as to seem almost stagnant, but there is something powerful happening in my soul as time passes.

It's easy to think of "big faith" in terms of famous evangelists like Billy Graham in a stadium shouting profound words of wisdom, changing lives of thousands at a time. It's natural to think of "active faith" as missionaries traveling the globe, reaching out to touch the poorest of the poor, helping in the far corners of the earth. And those are indeed exciting times of harvest.

But there is so much more to walking with Christ than the "big" moments of harvest. The quiet daily times in his Word - one chapter of scripture each day, one by one by one. One paragraph of sharing my heart in my prayer journal, adding up over the months to fill a book. It's the times of tending to family through encouraging words, caring touch, and helpful deeds that aren't public or glamorous but add up in God's sight. The days when nothing "happens" or "gets done" except determining to hang on to faith, to keep going through another day of discomfort, and to make tomorrow better if possible - those days can easily be regarded as "wasteful," but they make up a very important growing season.

I encourage you today, especially if you are someone struggling with chronic illness like I am, to relax your expectations and not to try to make every day a "harvest" day. It is so easy to overlook the quiet glory of the growing grain.

"Patient endurance" is a powerful phrase that a friend of mine uses when she asks for prayer. Suffering long-term with disability is not easy, and it's natural to just want total relief, but when I read the Bible, I find more and more that "patient endurance" is a quality that God values most highly (and rewards!) in his people. The only way to acquire it, however, is (sadly) not through being hit with God's wand-o'-instant-patience but instead to experience adversity and determine to cling to Christ through it. We build up powerful strength like weightlifters do - one rep at a time. Each setback is another weight on the barbell. We ask God why? He responds with the heaviness of silence. Meanwhile, we keep on lifting as our muscles of faith are growing imperceptibly stronger each and every day.

"If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;"
2 Timothy 2:11-12

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Choose Life

I've been thinking a lot lately about a quote that my mom forwarded to me. It said:

"Almost every trial increases our love for others. So even if we don't see any other good, we know of at least one--more love."

I really liked the quote at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it only applied to people who "choose life." I have seen trials crush my father but grow my mom and me. It really is interesting how "choosing" plays such an important role in faith and how our trials turn out. We literally can choose the bitter and angry route or the love route, and whichever way we choose comes flowing over into our lives and bodies.

I have been mulling that over lately - how each daily choice seems insignificant - each thought we dwell on, each image we take in, each emotion we allow power over us, yet these choices aren't insignificant at all - they are the most significant choices we make. Because each thought I think builds upon the others to influence who I am, how I think, and where I am headed.

I think it's misleading to think of the Christian life as only one single choice for Christ. Granted, it begins that way, but each day after that is a series of choices for either life or death - obedience or rebellion.

This has really come to my attention during the last few years of trials because of how many times I have to consciously decide with my will to continue to believe and wait and have faith, sometimes when I feel very negative emotion...sorrow, fear, grief, discouragement, confusion. Battling these feelings has really highlighted the importance of choosing and exerting my will forcefully in the direction of Christ. Sometimes I think about it as being a boat tied loosely to the dock, and each day I have to make an effort to re-tighten the rope so I don't let the current of this trial gradually pull me away from the shore and into the rapids.

I think choosing life ultimately means choosing to obey in those nitty-gritty moments of pain. Resisting death, for me, can be as simple as singing praise to God from the heart, repeating a promise from scripture, or even harder - a quiet surrender of the will. Not what I will, Lord, but what you will.

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.
Deuteronomy 30:19-20

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Your Hands

This song by J. J. Heller came on the radio when I needed to hear it last week. Sometimes God uses songs like this to encourage me.

I went to to find the verses from John 10 that I wanted to post below the song, and incredibly, of all the verses in the entire Bible, those particular words of Jesus are their "verse of the day" today!

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one.”
- John 10:28-30

Monday, April 5, 2010

the Beauty that makes beautiful

Several weeks ago, I read through A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis. In it, he recounts his experience of losing his wife to cancer and processes how this grief affects his faith in God. In one particular passage, I found this elegant connection between his love for this wife (H.) leading him to deeper love for God:
I see I've described H. as being like a sword. That's true as far as it goes. But utterly inadequate by itself, and misleading. I ought to have balanced it. I ought to have said, 'But also like a garden. Like a nest of gardens, wall within wall, hedge within hedge, more secret, more full of fragrant and fertile life, the further you entered.'

And then, of her, and of every created thing I praise, I should say, 'In some way, in its unique way, like Him who made it.'

Thus up from the garden to the Gardener, from the sword to the Smith. To the life-giving Life and the Beauty that makes beautiful.

This description of God - the Beauty that makes beautiful - really resonated in my heart today as I looked at these exquisite pictures of earth taken by a Japanese astronaut (Astro_Soichi) from the International Space Station.

For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Romans 1:20

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Extreme Makeover: Soul Edition

I'm a sucker for a good makeover show. It doesn't really matter if it's renovation of a home or refashioning of a person. It's so fun to watch the gradual transformation process and then see the delicious "before and after" shots side by side.

While I was watching a home makeover show this morning, I started wondering why makeover shows never get old. What is it about a makeover that is so appealing? How many times will I watch tile replaced with hardwood or style-phobic women don new sequin camis? What makes me watch a Nick Arrojo haircut and Carmindy makeup tips time after time?

There's something fascinating about watching the old and broken become like new. It's especially powerful when you see that transformation internally. Some of these makeovers really change the way the person feels and acts. It's often a struggle for them to initially let go of their old, inappropriate clothes. They stubbornly resist out of fear, habit, or insecurity. But by the end of the show, they stand a little straighter and smile a little brighter. Despite the struggle of transformation, a fresh set of clothes or a fresh coat of paint often can make all the difference.

I think it's interesting that the Bible compares a spiritual transformation to putting on new clothes. It's the makeover of a lifetime to become a child of the living God. When he hands over our new wardrobe, it's only a matter of time before we view ourselves differently, behave differently, think differently, and become a whole new person. However, the process of that makeover is difficult and takes time.

In the movie The Passion of the Christ, as Jesus is struggling beneath the burden of carrying the cross, there comes a point at which he falls and his mother comes running toward him. Bloody and beaten, he musters the strength to look into Mary's eyes and says to her: "See, mother, I make all things new."

Whenever I see this movie scene at Easter time, I'm so moved by that statement, made in the middle of the greatest agony, and what it ultimately means. It's very easy to get caught up in the problem of pain in this world and in my own personal struggle of the transformation process. If God was so good and powerful, why is there suffering? That question is tossed around by unbelievers and believers alike. If we are honest, we are wondering, why does God allow so much evil when he could just put an end to it. What is he waiting for?

The promise: "I am making everything new!" is taken from Revelation when Jesus comes back to earth as the Messianic King to begin ruling his kingdom. This is the great "makeover after shot" that we all long for when we desire a restored earth, justice, and healing. And when Christ was dying, he was making that possibility a reality for all of us.

In the middle of the process, it's easy to get discouraged because of our yet unfulfilled desire for the end result- the chance to live on a new earth, free from any mourning, crying, death, or pain. But that transformation can only begin to take place when we remove our old filthy rags of sin - the tatters that we try to hide behind, excuse, clutch tightly, and cover with - and, through faith, put on Christ. He is the only one righteous, the only one holy, the only one sinless. And when we put on his clothes, his salvation begins to work its way out through our lives.

It's the transformation of a lifetime available to anyone who asks.

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Galatians 3:26-29

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My Ring was in the Freezer

My pastor gave a powerful sermon last Memorial Day weekend called "Engraved." It was based on this verse:

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.
Isaiah 49:15-16

The sermon was part of a series called "GODISNOWHERE," which, if you notice, can be "God is Nowhere" or "God is Now Here." It can be easy to feel the former even while knowing the latter.

After hearing this sermon, I had a ring made based on this verse. It captivated me that God has my name engraved on his hands. For me, the hand is the place I write something if I don't want to forget it because I'm always looking at my hands. Pen washes off though, and if I'm not careful, I can forget even the boldest reminder. But here, this verse says that I am engraved. God is never going to wash me off or lose sight of his plan for my life. He even has nail scars to prove it.

I am often tempted to feel forgotten by God when I hurt for so long. When my prayers for relief go unanswered, I question. When my cries on behalf of others seem to fall on deaf ears, I wonder. When I'm trapped at home in my room, I think, "God, I could be out doing so much for you!"

I was out of the house for a few moments today for the first time in about 2 weeks. As I was singing along to praise music in the car, I was thinking with a chuckle: "Why keep this voice shut in?" Now, I'm no singer, but I can't understand sometimes why God has set apart this time for me to be isolated. I have such a desire to serve God and live life fully. Has God forgotten? Has he abandoned me?

I wear my ring every day to remind me of God's promise. (It was either that or a tattoo.) It reminds me of the tight bond between God and me - tighter than that of mother and child. He never for a moment gets distracted, falls asleep, or fails to keep watch over me. By faith, I can be assured that I have been set apart by him, like Israel was, for all time. He keeps watch over the walls that protect me, and sometimes, just like with Israel, he allows those walls to be broken down.

It's been a testing point for me in my faith to think that God could keep watch over me and still allow my walls to be broken down, to allow trouble in, to allow sorrow and brokenness. But recalling what happened to Israel, I do know that God has a plan to rebuild those walls again. When God allowed Babylon to break down the defenses of the city and Jerusalem to be taken into captivity, God knew all along that the captives would return and build up those ruins once again. I think he sees the same in my life. It won't always be this way.

So back to my ring. My grandma ended up needing an ambulance and going to the hospital yesterday. Because of this, I was very tired by mid afternoon, and my ring must have slipped off my hand while I was digging in the freezer for some very old, frosted pierogies. The thing is, I didn't even notice the ring was missing when I dropped it. I wear this ring every day and night, but I was so tired and stressed out that I completely forgot about the ring. It wasn't until my mom found it late last night and brought it in to me that I realized what had happened. The irony was not lost: I had lost track of the ring that reminds me of God's promise to never lose track of me.

As a human, even with the best intentions and a heart for God, I fail. I forget. I don't measure up. But in contrast to my failings, I can be sure that God is not like that. My ring may slip off and fall into the bottom of the freezer. I may slip up and revert back into patterns of sin that I thought were behind me. But no matter what I do, God is faithful. It is in his character, and he cannot be any other way. He will pursue me with steadfast love.

Lord, thank you that I am engraved on your hands and that nothing, not even my own failings or hardships, can get in the way of your all-consuming love for me.

For 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.
Romans 8:38-39