Feeling Like a Fraud

This post is paired with the post I made on Sunday about the struggle I am having right now. If you are interested, go here to read. https://alisarussell.wordpress.com/2015/08/16/struggling-with-my-salvation/

So, where am I three days later? I am still struggling, still searching. I have wounds that are gaping wide open and bleeding, and I don’t know what to do about them.  No matter how much I try, they just won’t heal. I’ve tried to pray, to ask God for healing, and they still hurt. Nothing changes. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe nothing is supposed to change. But, then, where does that leave me?

There’s another thing. Before, when I’ve hurt for whatever reason, I’ve been able to hang onto to the cross that I’ve had around my neck. In the last three years, I have made a point of wearing that cross because it represented what had changed in my life — having God back in my home. Now, though, I’m not sure where God is, or even if He exists, so I feel like a fraud if I wear my cross. I feel like I’m proclaiming something I’m not sure I believe if I wear it.  So, since I feel like that and don’t wear my cross, another form of comfort is taken away from me.

I’ve been told I wrestle honestly with things. At least, I try to wrestle honestly. Growing up, I had more experience with putting up shields than wrestling honestly with what was happening in my life. I’ve come to a point though where I can’t do anything, but be honest. I want my faith to get back to where it was–something I am strong and sure about, but I’m not sure if it will. That is the most honest I know how to be.

I’m going to end with quoting a song by Tenth Avenue North. It’s called Hold My Heart, and it reflects how I’m feeling right now. A friend of mine posted it a few years ago, and I am grateful she put me on the track of something so beautiful and authentic. Here it is.

“How long must I pray
Must I pray to You
How long must I wait
Must I wait for You
How long till I see Your face
See You shining through

I’m on my knees
Begging You to notice me
I’m on my knees
Father, will You turn to me

One tear in the dropping rain
One voice in a sea of pain
Could the maker of the stars
Hear the sound of my breaking heart
One light, that’s all I am
Right now I can barely stand
If You’re everything You say You are
Won’t You come close and hold my heart

I’ve been so afraid, afraid to close my eyes
So much can slip away before I say goodbye
But if there’s no other way
I’m done asking why

‘Cause I’m on my knees
Begging You turn to me
I’m on my knees
Father, will You run to me, yeah

One tear in the dropping rain
One voice in a sea of pain
Could the maker of the stars
Hear the sound of my breaking heart
One light, that’s all I am
Right now I can barely stand
If You’re everything You say You are
Won’t You come close and hold my heart

So many questions without answers
Your promises remain
I can’t see but I’ll take my chances
To hear you call my name
To hear you call my name

One tear in the dropping rain
One voice in a sea of pain
Could the maker of the stars
Hear the sound of my breaking heart
One light, that’s all I am
Right now I can barely stand
If You’re everything You say You are
Won’t You come close and hold my heart
Hold my heart
Could You hold my heart
Hold my heart”

 

Struggling with my Salvation

The title of this post is something I never thought I would write, but it is something I am struggling with today. My salvation. I am in a dark place, one of the darkest places I have ever known. It has been one thing after another for the last six months, and I am at a point now where I am saying, “Enough!” I can’t seem to get a break, a break where things are normal, and my emotions are not sailing up and down. Part of me wants to say I wish I was with Jesus, but then the other part says I won’t be with Jesus because I can’t even do the things that are spelled out in Scripture. It’s an ugly place to be in. I read verse after verse which says to do whatever thing it says to do, and I realize I haven’t done it. I’m not capable of doing it. Those things which I felt more than capable of doing just a few weeks ago, I don’t feel capable of doing anymore. I just feel lost.

When I read verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 which say, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Or a verse like Philippians 4: 6. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”  I think of how I haven’t been able to do that, or how I’ve done that, and nothing has happened. That is what tears me apart.

There’s another passage in Matthew that brings me closer, I think, to the reason for some of the thoughts I’ve been having. It’s Matthew 6:25-27. “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

The words about being more valuable to God than the birds stare out at me, and I realize I don’t consider myself valuable. A lot of that has to do with my background which I won’t get into, but, for the purposes of this post, all that needs to be said is because I don’t consider myself to be valuable, how could I possibly think God considers me valuable. That’s not a good place to be in either. And, then, if God doesn’t consider me valuable, why should he consider any of my prayer requests? It’s a question I can’t answer, but now I’ve put my feelings into words, and they’re not just in my heart anymore. Maybe putting them into words is what I needed to do so God could help me as I search and as I struggle. Maybe this is something that will help someone else too.

 

 

 

 

Why I Write

This is my first attempt at completing one of Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction writing challenges although this week does not involve fiction strangely enough. It’s been a topic I’ve been thinking about recently so when I saw the prompt, I thought I would take a stab at it. First, the prompt.

WHY I WRITE.
That’s it. I wanna know why you write. What it is that makes you want to tell stories and write them down. What drives you? Something biographical? Something internal? Dig deep. Be thoughtful. Write it out like the bad-ass that you know you are.

My writing journey began as a teenager, and it began with writing fanfiction before I even knew the term existed. I would fill notebooks with further adventures of my favorite television characters. These were characters I had been inspired by in one way or another. Usually, they would be people who would try to do the right thing, and I would write about the journey they would take to get there. I used their journey to help me with my own journey as I grew into a young woman.

Along with writing fanfiction, I also kept a journal. I would use this place to write down many of my deepest secrets, things I didn’t want anyone else to know about. I asked the questions that no one else could answer and told the stories no one else could tell. It was my way of making sense of my world.

This theme would continue in subsequent years. I received my bachelors in psychology and my master of arts in teaching, but I kept going back to writing, my way of making sense of the world. I could never figure out how to make money from just my writing though so I began teaching and gradually stopped writing because I was busy being an adult or adulting (as one of my friends likes to say). I got married, gave birth to my boys, and eventually quit teaching to stay at home with them.

In subsequent years, we moved several times, and my boys grew. And, as those of you who are parents know, as they grew older, they were able to do more for themselves, and I was able to do more that didn’t involve directly caring for them. I piddled with writing a little bit, but it was not anything serious, and it was like I had forgotten everything that used to mean so much to me.

All of that changed in the year 2009, six and a half years ago. We began the year having discussions on whether to move back to our home state to help care for my mother-in-law who had not been doing well. We decided to do so in February, and looking back it was almost as if God had given us the promptings to move. Because, two months later, she passed away suddenly. I was heartbroken. We were all heartbroken. In the midst of settling her affairs, I pulled out a notebook and started writing. That writing grew into a crescendo as the calendar made its way through the summer and into the fall. It wasn’t long before the rest of my family became used to seeing me take a notebook wherever we went.

The following year I heard of something called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. It happens every November, and many words are written all over the world. The goal is to write a 50000 word novel during the thirty days of that month. I decided to participate. It turned out that my husband needed surgery so, on the very first day of that month, I was feverishly writing while sitting in the hospital waiting room. I didn’t know it at the time, but my family was about to go through more change. I finished my first 50000 word novel that month while my husband was recovering. He ended up losing his job through that set of circumstances and started looking for another one. 2010 flowed into 2011, and I continued to write as I coped with all the change. He couldn’t find work where we were so we ended up moving to Birmingham, Alabama. Moving here was fortuitous as there were so many more resources available for writers than there were in my former home town.

But, of course, change and life continued to happen. I miscarried our third child in late 2011 and went through some dark and black times during the following year. I continued to write, but it was almost as if I was doing it through a fog. I finally realized at the beginning of 2013 that I was suffering from depression. We had begun visiting the first church we had gone to in eight years, and I had come back to the Christian faith I had as a teenager and young adult. The pastor of that church offered to counsel me, and we began talking. It didn’t take long for him to get clued in as to how I coped with the world, and he suggested I journal what I was feeling. I did so, and the fog started lifting. I had a place where I could be completely honest with myself, and it was a place I didn’t have to share with anyone else.

Since that time I have filled many journals and written blog posts and stories. None of my stories have been published yet, but I know that is only a matter of time. I am very grateful to all of the people who have encouraged me along the way, but especially to my husband and to my pastor who every so often asks me if I have written it down when I start to tell him something.

Have a great day!

Being Brave

This has been a tumultuous summer for a number of reasons, and the list just keeps growing. I found out some more news yesterday that was…difficult to hear.

There have been many times over the years where I’ve had to carry our family for different reasons. Every one of those times has been difficult. And so, yesterday, when I got this news, I was overwhelmed.  Last night, when I was driving to Target, I was having a conversation with God. I said, “God, I don’t think I can be brave again. It’s been one thing after another, and when each thing has happened, thoughts of being abandoned enter my head. I’m not sure I can go on or be brave anymore.”

Well, God, being God, had this to say. “It is not you being brave, my daughter. It is me being brave for you. It is me giving you courage and giving you strength.” He reminded me of what Paul says in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 12:9 – 10

“But he (God) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 4:8 – 9

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

After these verses came to mind, God also said something else. “This is why I have also given you a family, my daughter. A family that can be brave for you when you can’t. A family that loves you and won’t abandon you. Take heart, you are stronger than you think you are.”

I came back home from that conversation with peace and reassurance in my heart knowing my God is bigger and braver than whatever the world throws at me and that I don’t have to be brave at all as long as He is with me.

God’s blessings on you today!

 

 

That Pesky Serpent

Hebrews 11:1

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Living like I have confidence and assurance. It is my utmost desire as a Christian believer. I want to live a life that reflects my Lord and Savior to others. But, while I still live in this imperfect world, there is something that gets in the way of doing this. What is it, you ask? It’s that pesky serpent, of course. Satan doesn’t want me or anyone else, for that matter, to live with confidence and assurance. In fact, he would prefer to keep us emasculated and bottled up in our own fears. To make us impotent even when we’re sitting in church, even when we’re worshiping our Lord and Savior.

What makes it worse is that Satan can be present in the good things. Things like worship, the Holy Spirit, community, family, marriage, church, work, sexuality….the list could go on and on. The serpent, which is how Satan is portrayed in Genesis 3, sits on our shoulders and whispers things in our ears that make us dissatisfied  with what God has given us.  I’m sure you’ve heard some of these messages before.

“You know that convertible would be a much better car than the Toyota you’re looking at. And it would impress more girls too.”

“What about the house in that great neighborhood? You’re not worth anything if you don’t buy a house.”

Here’s another one. “You know, the worship service couldn’t have been that good if they didn’t sing all of your favorite songs.”

And finally, “How can you contribute if you’re sick? Having faith is about what you do and what you give, not about who you are. You’re not good enough for the grace God says He’s given you.”

I’m sure you can come up with more deceitful messages that Satan has whispered in your ear. The one pertinent word in that previous sentence is deceitful. All of those messages are deceitful and not what God intends for His children.

You might wonder why I’m writing about this today. It was inspired by the sermon my pastor preached yesterday. He spoke of that pesky serpent in Genesis 3 and the influence it had on Adam and Eve and how their sin changed God’s creation forever. He also talked about how Satan will always whisper in our ear, and how that won’t change until we are with Jesus.

I was thinking this morning of how this related to me. This past week has been a wild ride for me and my family. My husband has been having some health difficulties, and he had to spend a day in the hospital because of concern that his heart was involved. It wasn’t, but the symptoms were still there. Because of the unknown diagnosis, fear grabbed my heart and took up residence. I realize now that Satan was also whispering in my ear. I stuffed everything inside and didn’t feel like I could share because of the unknown diagnosis. After he had more lab work done the following day, a voice told me I was being stupid and that I needed to share. I know that voice was God. After posting a prayer request on our church’s Facebook page, I felt better and lighter, like a tremendous burden had been lifted. The following day he received a diagnosis, and he is now being treated.

This whole situation has taught me something. God uses community to make our burdens lighter and to help us live for Him. He didn’t mean for us to go through life alone. We shouldn’t have to pretend with each other. We should be able to share, to become unglued, to be authentic with our fellow Christians without fear of rejection. My prayer request today is for God to help me be better with that–on the giving end and on the receiving end. And that the whispers of the pesky serpent go unheard over the chorus of believers doing what they’re supposed to do.

God’s blessings on you today!

Taking Thoughts Captive

Many of the topics I have written about in this blog are things I’m struggling with in my own life. Today’s topic is no exception. All of us who are Christians have our own thought lives. We can think of ways we can serve Christ and act on them. We can also think of things that can discourage us in our Christian walk. Those thoughts come from Satan. Since we are still living in this world and we are imperfect, our thoughts come from both places.

So, how do Christians defeat the thoughts that come from Satan? There is a specific verse about this topic in 2 Corinthians, specifically in chapter 10, verse 5.

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.”

Paul doesn’t pull any punches, does he? What exactly does this mean? Our thought lives are where Christ does His best work in us. If they’re not focused on Him, He doesn’t have the opportunity to work, and Satan has the opportunity to get in and discourage us and then encourage us to sin. God does have some ways to prevent this though, but it takes effort on our part, and it’s an effort we should be willing to make if we truly want Him in our lives.

The first of these ways is prayer. If we’re not talking to God, how are we supposed to know what He wants us to do? Psalm 61:1 says, “Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.”  Romans 12:12 says, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Jesus says this about prayer in John 17:20. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” So, prayer is important in our relationship with God. It’s how we talk to Him.

Are there any other ways God can communicate with us? Yes, through our study of Scripture.  2 Timothy 3:16 – 17 aptly demonstrate this. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching , rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” God wants us to know how He wants us to live, and Scripture will tell us if we take the time to read it.

There is one additional way God can communicate with us, and it’s through other believers. Believers who are steeped in prayer and the study of Scripture often have insights that God can use in our lives if we take the time to listen. That can be a hard thing though as Christians, especially those in the United States, deal often with the sin of pride and thinking they can do it all alone when God did not mean us to be alone by any stretch of the imagination. We, who are Christians, are supposed to live in community and be able to trust our fellow believers enough to be authentic with them.

I say all this like it’s easy, but I know it’s not. I know it’s something I will have to pray about every day for the rest of my life.  God wants us to talk to Him about everything though–our victories and our struggles. He knows we will struggle because we are still living in an imperfect world where sin resides, and He knows our thoughts are the first place we will struggle. I am so thankful that my God is with me through it all!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

The End of the Prayer Project

When I say this is the end of the Prayer Project, I don’t mean this is the end of my praying. Not by a long shot! I just mean that this project of praying for every family in my church was finished yesterday morning when I prayed for the last set of names. It’s kind of surreal. During this time of being on my knees, I prayed for many families and for many people who I knew personally, and then I prayed for people who I didn’t know besides seeing their name on a list. But God does. God knows all of  us, and each of those people deserved to be prayed for.

I was thinking about where I needed to go next when I was writing in my journal earlier. We had a time of prayer last night at my church, and I realized something. God is leading me to be more intentional about prayer. I wrote last week about courage, and I think praying and courage are all wrapped up together.  I do understand that people are uncomfortable praying out loud. If I were to be honest, I would count myself in that group. But, God is wanting me to reach beyond my comfort zones in asking for prayer and in volunteering to pray. Praying is how we talk to God, and praying is how we understand how God wants us to share His love with the world around us. There are so many verses in Scripture about prayer. I would make this post impossibly long if I tried to share all of them so I will only quote two. The first is in the Old Testament from 2 Chronicles.

2 Chronicles 7:14

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

The second is from the book of Philippians in the New Testament.

Philippians 4:6

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

The second verse, in particular, is one I have to remember every single day, and I think God is pointing out to me that I do have to be intentional and consistent with my prayer time. I look forward to seeing where this focus will go in the future.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

 

 

Courage

Last night, I had an encounter at church that got me started thinking about this topic. As I’m sure you know, our churches, the groups of people we live in community with, can be messy at times.  I have written before about the commitment it takes to love people you might not be in agreement with all the time. It also takes courage, at least for me it does, as I have the tendency to avoid conflict and not talk to people honestly about my feelings. I’ll get to the encounter in a minute.

But, first, what does God say about courage? Is it something He really talks about? Let’s go to Scripture and find out.

It turns out God says a lot about courage–in the Old Testament and the New Testament as a matter of fact. Some of the verses I found through my concordance are some of my favorite verses. I will quote just a few of them. Here is Deuteronomy 31:6.

“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 or forsake you.”

Another one is Joshua 1:6.

“Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.”

What about the New Testament? Can we find examples of courage in there? Of course, there are. One reference is John 16:33. Jesus is speaking.

“I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

The last verse I want to quote is from the book of Acts. In Chapter 23, Verse 11, God is speaking to Paul.

“The following night. the Lord stood by him and said, “Have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

So, as you can see, there are plenty of examples of courage. Now, let me go back to the encounter and tell you what God showed me. After church last night, as is my usual thing, I spoke with several people, people who are precious to me, people who are brothers and sisters in Christ. I hugged people, was hugged in return and was generally encouraged.

When my husband and I were getting ready to leave, I heard a voice clear as day in my head which said, “You need to share what’s going on with you with such and such and ask them to pray.” The voice wasn’t from anyone around me, so, I could only surmise, as this has happened before, that the voice was from God. Of course, I started my arguments. “No, I can’t do that, God. That person intimidates me. They have it all together, and I don’t. I know I don’t.”  It had nothing to do with the particular person. I just have a hard time letting my guard down with them because they…intimidate me. God wasn’t having any of that though. “Yes, you can, Alisa. I will give you courage.”  There was no way I could argue with that one. I walked over to the person, and the words spilled out. I had not discussed the situation with the person previously, and I think they were surprised. They said they would pray though. I walked out of church, almost with my mouth open. I had actually spoken with someone who was usually not my first person to let my guard down with. God is teaching me continuously about trust, and last night He added lessons about courage too.

When we got home, I told my husband something else that had been itching at the back of my head. I said I thought God might be calling me to teach in some capacity at church, but I didn’t think I was good enough. I heard the voice at the back of my head again. “You’re not good enough. But, you have Me in you. That makes you good enough. I will give you courage.” Don’t know where this exact call is yet, but I know God is gonna get me there!”

God’s blessings on you today!

Living in the Waiting

We wait for so much in our lives. We wait to finish high school. We wait to finish college. We wait to get our first job. We wait to get married. We wait to have children.  Etc. Etc. Etc. You get the idea. I’m in one of those waiting periods right now, and it is hard. It is hard to wait and not have control over situations like I think I should. It’s even harder when things don’t happen as quickly as I think they should.  Even when I’m waiting in line at the store or waiting in a line of traffic, I’m impatient for things to happen quickly so I can go about my merry way.

What happened to being patient though? What happened to just living in the moment? I think some of the answers to those questions are societal.  Society, especially Western society, says we should always be rushing to the next thing. The next thing will give us complete satisfaction in our lives like nothing else ever has, and it will be the proverbial brass ring that will slow us down. It never does though. It never slows us down.

What can slow us down? I think we need to look at Scripture to answer that question. There are many verses about waiting, only a few of which I’m going to quote here.

Psalm 25:4-5

“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me; for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.”

Psalm 46:1-3, 10

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Psalm 37:7

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.”

There are many more Scriptures about this, but I think these demonstrate the point well. We need to be willing to wait and to have patience while doing so. For those of who have given our hearts to Christ, this is paramount. If we truly have released control to God, we need to release control of EVERYTHING to Him. That doesn’t mean we don’t pray. It just means that once we’ve prayed, we give control of it to Him, and we don’t take it back. We live in the moments He gives us, and we don’t worry about the future. We see the beauty and the peace of living in the waiting. His beauty and His peace. I understand this in a way I’ve never understood it before because of everything I’ve written so far and because of what I learned in our Vacation Bible School last week. I will end with a quote from that study. “God has the power to provide! Hold on!”

God’s blessings on you today!!!

 

Time

I’m sure you’ve noticed it’s been some time since you’ve heard from me. Four weeks to be exact. Not apologizing for it. Just stating the facts. A lot has happened in the last few weeks though. Things that I’ve needed to process. Things that have just kept me busy. But, before I go into that, let me state the verses from Ecclesiastes that have prompted this post.  They are verses about, as you probably have already surmised, time.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 8

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”

I have become fully aware of the passage of time during the last few weeks because of a momentous event that has happened in my own family. My older son graduated from high school ten days ago. When we chose to homeschool nine years ago, I knew we were making a choice to be different. Because of this choice, I thought my husband and I would not be able to experience some of the typical passages of time such as graduation. Boy, was I wrong! So very wrong!

We moved to Alabama almost four years ago, and the laws in this state required us to have a cover school. Upon moving here, we registered with Everest Academy. When it came time to let the administrator know that our older son would be graduating, we found out there would be a graduation ceremony and that he would be able to participate if he wished. We gave him the choice, and he said he wanted to. I am so glad he did because I needed to experience this typical ritual with him and I needed to see something else in action.

You might ask what that something else is. I needed to see that Alabama had truly become home and that we had a community around us. At the beginning of May, we sent our graduation invitations — some to our family and friends out-of-state and the rest to our local family. I knew it was unlikely that our out-of-state family and friends would be able to come for various reasons some having to do with illness, some having to do with blessed events in their own lives, and some having to do with their distance from where we live. Our son was remembered by some of these people though, and I’m so appreciative he was.

Back to the thing I needed to see though. When we sent the invitations, we all picked people in this area who had become family to us. These people have had a marked impact on all of our lives over the last four years, and we wanted them to witness our son’s achievement.  Because it was a homeschool graduation and we weren’t limited on tickets or space, we invited a lot of people. During this time of year, people have a lot going on, and I knew some wouldn’t be able to come which would have been fine.

Here, though, in this picture are the people who came to the ceremony, and here, in the second picture, are the people who came to dinner afterwards.

graduation2015

graduation20152

 

They came to witness this passage of time with our son. I also  now know, with certainty, that I have a family here in Birmingham — a family by choice; a family who is loved because Christ first loved us.

God’s blessings on you all today!