Monday, January 23, 2012

When You Want Now What Only God Can Do Later

I've been planning tonight for a while. I scoured the family devotionals on Amazon and found one that looked good. It was arranged to be a family devotional that you read at dinnertime. I thought it fitting since we are always on such a tight schedule and can't fit much in.

I bought the book. I looked at it today, hungrily. I read the topics, the discussion questions; I imagined in my head what I would say, how I would explain to my three stepkids that God isn't only with us in church on Sundays. I would say how Daddy and I wanted to bring God here, in this home, with us. Because God IS with us. I fantasized about this all day.

And then, tonight, we sat down and I pulled out the book. I even started my prelude to the occasion, but was interrupted by the 5 year old boy making goofy faces at me. He does this during dinner sometimes and Husband and I have to refocus him and remind him to finish his food. We did this and I moved on. Husband read the few paragraphs and then I realized that this wasn't going to be an easy task.

5 year old boy was squirming in his seat and playing with his fork. 8 year old girl was in and out of the experience. 13 year old girl had the classic skeptic look, a look I am so afraid she will keep forever.

But Husband and I kept going. We talked about seeds and how when good seeds are planted in us, a good harvest is produced. When bad seeds are planted inside us, a bad harvest is produced. We talked about what seeds (thoughts) were...

5 year old boy? What do you think?

"I don't know..." he giggled.

8 year old giggled at him giggling.

13 year old asked if she could have more potatoes.

I looked at Husband tenderly and nervously. We continued. We kept asking questions about how people show they are sad and how they are happy. 8 year old girl was all too happy to produce answers - answers she knew would make us happy. She's quite the pleaser. She also is the one out of the three kids who openly declares her love for God and Jesus. She is quite the artist about it. We have zillions of pictures depicting, "I love God!"

She has a tough time living that out, though. She can be manipulative and bossy, rude and cruel.

God loves us all.

8 year old girl said that it was God who puts the sad and happy and bad seeds in our heads.

Husband and I arched our eyebrows. "Uh...not exactly, honey..."

How do we answer that?

I suddenly felt totally inadequate. I didn't know how to explain all that is in my heart about our faith.

Yet we continued. We talked a bit more, asked more questions - 8 year old answered, 5 year old boy shrugged and giggled incessantly which only scratched my chalkboard-brain like fingernails. And 13 year old girl had this look on her face like she wanted to shrivel under the table and disintegrate.

I decided to bring the conversation to a close so I told them to think about the kind of seeds that were being planted in their hearts in the next few days.

They looked at me with utter confusion.

I think I even felt a bit confused.

So dinnertime ended and let me tell you, our new devotional time did not go how I thought it would.

As I helped Husband with the dishes, all kinds of thoughts and images ran through my mind: how a family of 6 that I know sits around their dinner table and reads Scripture and discusses it. The youngest is 6 years old.

How so many people I hear on the radio and read about in books grew up in good, Christian homes...

about how I grew up in a pretty decent home yet neither my mother nor my father made God a priority in my life. I felt angry. Cheated.

I felt angry at the 5 year old boy who kept laughing and making funny faces when I was trying to be serious.

I felt angry at the 8 year old girl who gave us the "right" answers, not even knowing what they meant.

I felt angry at the 13 year old apathetic girl who is only interested in being famous (though she has no intention on learning any skill) and being on her iPod.

I felt angry at Husband and my measly attempts at bringing God into our home and how we had failed.

I heard a voice telling me to quit.

And then I realized who that voice was:

It was the enemy. The Devil. That one who is the opposite of God, the opposite of Love, the opposite of Goodness. The opposite of everything we are trying to bring into this family and keep in this family.

I began telling myself that I ought to give them a break. They had only been experiencing God and faith for one year. When they lived with their mom, life was total chaos and its own kind of "hell" much of the time. I told myself that I can't expect them to become perfect little cookie-cutter happy children who can recite the New Testament after one devotional.

And did I really want that?

I reminded myself that everything I wanted to impart to them could not be accomplished in one evening.

In fact, this might take many, many nights of frustrating starts and stops at conversations about our faith and our God. 5 year old boy might have been laughing because he felt uncomfortable and didn't know what else to do when the spotlight was on him. I realized that 8 year old girl just wants to be loved and I had to continue this venture if only to show her - to show them all - just how awesome God's love is. And I realized how important it is for Husband and I to persevere in this for 13 year old girl's sake - for she is wrapped up by worldly things so much more than the other two kids. In fact, it's like she's wrapped up in a world burrito. She's trapped herself inside iPods and Facebook and her phone and texting.

Yes, I told myself. We must continue. It will be awkward. It will be hard. But the Christian life is hard. The United States has basically thrown out Christianity like the baby with the bathwater. A pastor we talked to over the weekend affirmed this and added that now the most common belief in the U.S. was atheism. How God does not exist.

Finishing up dishes, I was brimming with feelings, good and bad. I took a shower and the thoughts rolled over in my mind. I thought about a blog entry I would write, what I would say, and then I thought about the title:

Devotional for the Skeptic...

for example.

But then the phrase hit me like a truck: When You Want Now What Only God Can Do Later.

Indeed, I want NOW - my children to have a strong faith in God - and that can't happen by my efforts, alone. Even with Husband joining me, how could I think that we could do this alone? And in one night?

First of all, it is not we who will do this. We cannot bring the Holy Spirit to these children. Only God can. What we can do is model to them what loving God and following his law looks like. What being a good person looks like.

So, in closing, I invite you to ask how our devotional reading is doing. I promise you I'll answer quite frustrated at times. But I know, I just know...

one night in the future, something will click. Maybe it will be with 5 year old. Maybe 13 year old. Maybe 8 year old.

But I know God is on our side and is pleased with our efforts. And I trust that God will help us reach this kids.

We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.

If you don't succeed, try and try again. I realize that's not a Bible verse...

but it certainly applies here as well.

I say...

If at first you don't in be on your side...and he will bring you home.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

When You Feel Forsaken

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” 
~ Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV)

I did not feel that earlier today. I felt lost, angry, ill, attacked. I felt forsaken. I couldn't feel God with me. I couldn't feel Immanuel.

I am on day #3 of tapering off of a massively addicting psychoactive drug. I don't remember if I talked about my trials of withdrawal last year or not. I might not have felt safe to share it or I might have felt ashamed.

I'm writing about it now, though, because it is playing an integral part of my faith walk.

Withdrawal from anything is difficult. It can easily be a playground for the devil, for the great attacker to attack you at your most vulnerable. And that is what he did to me.

I was sitting on the downstairs couch wrapped in a blanket, crying to Husband; my head was spinning and felt fuzzy; I heard a strange whirring whenever I moved. I kept feeling like I amounted to nothing, like everyone would be better off without me. I kept picturing our master bedroom and the scores of pill bottles that lined the shelf.

I knew this was not me. I knew this was the withdrawal. My body and mind wanted a drug that made me sicker just being on it. I knew and Husband reminded me that I would be so much healthier off of it. I'm off two of my four psychotropic medications (DON'T try this alone; I'm doing this under the watchful eye of a doctor) and I have become so much more alive. I knew what was me. I was a child of Christ. I had Christ in me.

In the wretchedness of withdrawal, however, my positive identity goes out the window. I cried to Husband, "I can't find God right now!"

And that was worse than the nausea. Worse than the head spinning and whirring. Worse than the body aches. Not feeling God is quite possibly the worst feeling I can ever have.

The ironic (but quite possibly purposeful) thing about this is that Jesus understands this feeling. He, too, did not feel God present at a most critical point in his life:

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

Matthew 27:45-47

 Husband assisted me to the upstairs bedroom and drew down the blankets. I crawled in, feeling like some kind of bear hibernating in a cave. Husband turned the lights off, turned the white noise machine on, drew the curtains, told me to rest. I felt guilty. He assured me he would take care of things tonight. I cried harder, "I don't feel God!"

I asked for the little glass cross I carry in my pocket. It was lying on my nightstand. He retrieved it and placed it in my hand. He kissed me on my head and I asked if he'd say a prayer for me. 

I still felt forsaken. But I was able to ask for prayer. 

He prayed that I would feel better, that I would know that, even during the worst of it, that God was surely with me, right beside me. 

When he left, I fell into a deep sleep.

I opened my eyes and my heartbeat quickened when I heard our dog's frantic bark. He does that whenever someone knocks at or comes near the front door. Our bedroom is right off the living room so I can hear everything that happens. I knew that my younger stepchildren had just come home from the neighbor's house. My oldest stepdaughter was also at a friend's house. We wanted the kids to be away from the tension in the house. I heard Husband shush my loud stepson. I listened to them microwave leftovers, heard the moving of wooden chairs across tile floor. 

I laid there for a few minutes. I felt profoundly different. I scanned my body: I still felt achy, but not nearly as bad. I scanned my mind: free from attacks and feeling better. I squeezed the tiny cross that had remained in my palm even while I slept that hour which felt like a day. I knew that if I wanted I had permission to stay in the dark bedroom and rest the entire night. But I began to miss the kids, Husband, and so I gathered the light blanket around me and came out of the cave. 

Husband was surprised to see me. My younger stepdaughter turned and smiled, saying hello. My loud stepson said his very loud hello and although it rattled through my pained head, it was a welcome sound. I smiled at Husband. 

Today was a scary day. I rarely feel so alone; I rarely feel the lack of God. I quote now an email I received upon waking up from a dear long-distance friend who has three children with physical illnesses:

"My inability to help is often overwhelming. I would do anything to alleviate my kids' suffering, pain, fear, frustration, weariness, but can't. I can only quietly walk beside them through the tough spots, knowing God is good even in the midst of it, that He will use this in their lives and mine all for His great glory as we open our hands and willingly accept what He is allowing, even while we don't understand. I don't think we have to like what God allows, but we do have to accept it and allow Him to work in us through it."

And I understood it then: God had never left. He just doesn't do that. I had looked away from His love. He had been with me the whole time. I was too blind to see it. Christianity does not say that God will take pain away or keep us from experiencing it. God will walk with us, though. Do you not think that He looked upon His Son with a broken heart? He knew Jesus' sacrifice and crucification had to happen to make the world open its eyes.

Jesus felt that his Father had forsaken him. But Jesus knew better. He did not die feeling the lack of his Father's love. The ultimate love was Jesus' death.

God with us. I certainly felt my Immanuel after the hour nap which felt like a day.

I know that I will face these road blocks again. And I just may become blind again. But that is what the Bible is for, isn't it. It's His love letter to His children.

So when I feel forsaken...

Well, maybe  
Maybe that's the point  
To reach the point of giving up
Cause when I'm finally 

Finally at rock bottom  
Well, that's when I start looking up  
And reaching out...
~ "Strong Enough," Matthew West

Simply put, I am never forsaken.  

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” 
~ Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV)

He goes with me - through withdrawal, into caves, into fearful sleep, into dangerous places, He goes with me. 

a great article about thinking that God has forsaken you can be found here.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

When You Want to Bookend Your Years

Driving to my friend's house last night, New Year's Eve, I listened to Matthew West's album, "The Story of Your Life." Strangly, I had never gotten past the first 10 or so songs because I loved them so much I kept listening to them on repeat. But I happened to listen to the last two songs and my mouth dropped open. I drove, truly, with The Holy Spirit, in me - eyes teary and heart pounding at the profound and comforting lyrics provided in both songs: "The Reason for the World" and "The Healing Has Begun."

I realized that the first song could end my 2011 and the latter song could begin my 2012.

Unfortunately, I cannot figure out how to embed youtube videos into this blog template. I'm not even sure if you can. So I can't provide an actual visual of the youtube video and have you click on it and watch it from here. All I can do is provide the links and you'll have to go to the youtube site and watch it from there.

But I tell you, it's worth it.

So if you haven't taken stock of the past year yet, take a seat and listen to this first song,
"The Reason for the World" (link provided in the title)

My favorite lyrics to that song are:
Maybe the reason for the pain  
Is so we would pray for strength 
And maybe the reason for the strength  
Is so that we would not lose hope 
And maybe the reason for all hope 
Is so that we could face the world 
And the reason for the world 
Is to make us long for home

If you are trying to make sense of tragedies in your life - and we all have them - then please do listen to this song. People mean well when they say that "everything is for a reason." This song comforts you the right way. 

The song ends this way:
No ear has heard 
No eye has seen 
Not even in your wildest dreams 
A beauty that awaits beyond this world 
When you look into the eyes of grace  
and hear the voice of mercy say
Child, welcome to the reason for the world

Think about that last line. What does that mean for you?

The second song, "The Healing Has Begun" is a wonderful song to start the New Year with. We all have healing to do - whether it is from a trauma that has haunted us since childhood or if it is something recent that has scarred us...we are never one hundred percent put together. And how can we be without God's mercy, strength and love? 

Let this year be the year that you take the Lord's hands and say, Yes, let me heal. Help me heal. It is time.
"The Healing Has Begun" (link to song is in the title)
My favorite lyrics are

There's a world full of people dying from broken hearts  
Holding on to the guilt, thinking they fell too far 
So don't be afraid to show 'em your beautiful scars 
'Cause they're the proof, yeah you're the proof 
Oh, the healing has begun

Your scars are beautiful! They are a testimony to your survival. And when you take the Lord's hand and walk with Him, you are a testimony to grace and mercy. As Matthew West sings, don't be afraid to show them your beautiful scars because YOU are the proof...

that the healing has begun.

Let this be a year of healing and love.