My Journey with Chronic Illness

This is the story I’ve never written down, much less published, because it’s not really my story. It’s my husband’s. But, it became my story when we met in 1992, and it has continued to be my story in our almost twenty-five years of marriage. Today is the first time I’ve written it all down because…it needs to be heard.

First, there are illnesses that, dare I say, are “fashionable” to talk about. How many ads we have seen for medicines that treat heart disease or multiple kinds of cancers? I would say many. I understand this. There are many people who suffer and who have died from these diseases. But, if we have lived any length of time, we know there are many more diseases than just these two. My husband has dealt with one of these for most of his adult life. Crohn’s Disease. I’m going to define this disease, and its cousin, ulcerative colitis, because they are so similar, and the drugs used to treat them are similar. First, Crohn’s Disease—a chronic, inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract. Now, ulcerative colitis—a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. As you can see, they are similar, only having a one or two-word difference in their definitions. In fact, we later found out that my husband’s diagnosis was indeterminate between the two.

But, back to the diseases themselves. They are both bowel diseases. Diseases that affect elimination. Who wants to talk about that? There are many people though who suffer—1.6 million with 6 to 15 new cases per 100,000 people diagnosed each year. And there is no cure. Yes, there are drugs that can control it. Yes, there are surgeries that can help. But, all of these have life changing consequences. I know this because I’ve lived it.

Anyway, when I met my husband in 1992, he was recovering from a surgery. I was struck by his kind manner, his twinkling brown eyes, and his sense of humor. The rest only became relevant as we started dating. The times he couldn’t go anywhere because of the pain. The shame he felt when he had an accident. The constant hunger from the steroids he took. And so many more side effects from the medications and effects from the disease itself. We had good times though. Times when he was in remission and we could be normal. He asked me to marry him almost eight months later. I suppose as a 27-year-old, I should have known what I was facing, but I loved him and wanted to marry him. We married almost thirteen months after he proposed.

When I turned thirty the following year, we started to consider having a child. He had managed to come off his medications, and the doctors said it would be the best time to try. He had been on them for so long though, the odds weren’t high we would be able to conceive—one of the side effects of the medications I spoke of earlier. We beat them though. Or maybe I should say God had a hand in it. 😉 I got pregnant and at the end of 1996, we had our first son.

The first days of new parenthood were wonderful, exhausting, exhilarating, and every superlative adjective in-between. But, as we moved several months into our son’s first year, my husband had a flare and came out of remission. I can hardly describe the pain. I know it was excruciating. There was so much he wanted to do, but couldn’t. They tried several combinations of the meds. They did a colonoscopy to see where the lesions were. But, nothing helped. My husband was stoic. He worked as much as he could. He didn’t want it said of him that he complained too much of not feeling well. That was something one of his family members did constantly. Finally, though, he couldn’t work anymore. Something had to be done. The doctor decided on surgery, and we met with a surgeon. They were going to open him up and see how much damage there was. A temporary colostomy might have to be done, but he was optimistic it could be reversed. I particularly remember the surgeon asking what his pain level was. He said it was a four or five on a scale of ten. (This would come into play later.)

The following day he went into surgery. I was anticipating a surgery of no more than two hours so when it passed that time, I got nervous. One of the nurses in the operating room called out to the waiting room. The damage was more extensive than they had thought. (This surgeon later said to my husband he wouldn’t wait to take him back to surgery again. Turns out he has a very high pain tolerance.) They didn’t know how long it would be. The surgeon came out over six hours later. Something bad had happened. The damage to his colon and rectum had been extensive. They had removed both and put in an ileostomy. He had coded on the table, and they had restarted his heart. My heart almost stopped. Here I was an almost 32-year-old woman with an almost 1-year-old son, and I had come this close to being a widow. Of course, I was grateful they had saved him, but at that moment, I didn’t realize how permanent and life-changing this would be for him in the years to come.

He went home from the hospital a week later, and our adjustments began. He had received counsel from an ostomy nurse about what to expect, but a lot of the adjustments were going to involve him seeing what worked and what didn’t. Here is the definition. “An ileostomy is an opening in the belly (abdominal wall) that’s made during surgery. The end of the ileum (The lowest part of the small intestine) is brought through this opening to form a stoma, usually on the lower right side of the abdomen.” (Source, cancer.org) I won’t get any more detailed than that. Just know that it was a permanent change in body image for him and a change that both of us would need to walk through. We went to one support group meeting, but weren’t able to gain a whole lot of insight since we were the only ones there who weren’t retired and who had a young child at home. After that, he got most of his information from the Internet.

Not only were we dealing with physical adjustments, we were also dealing with mental and emotional adjustments. This path was hard, and there was no one in our lives we could really talk with about it. No one who understood when I came to a church function alone. So much depression and shame. Why couldn’t our lives be normal? We could see our abnormal clearly. Did anyone else have an abnormal?

Things gradually evened out though. We had our second son, and our abnormal became normal. Life was good. But, in the first years of the twenty-first century, my husband started having problems with the ostomy. He had to go to the hospital again. What? I thought we were done with the hospital. Turns out we weren’t. In fact, there have been many hospital stays over the past nineteen years. 2001. 2003. 2005. 2010. 2015. 2016. All of these stays didn’t directly involve the ostomy, but I had to wonder if some of them involved his destroyed immune system. Because that was the other life-changing thing the doctor had told us to expect. He had been on the meds for his Crohn’s for so long; he would more than likely catch everything that came down the pike. He did. If there was something going around at his office, he would usually be the first one to catch it.

In the midst of all this, we moved. Several times. Employers have a hard time understanding the reality of a chronic illness and everything that comes with it. He was able to gain valuable experience with each position though which was a plus. But, we still had very few people in our lives we could trust with our “abnormal” normal. We had left the church, and I felt so far away from God.

Finally, we moved to our current state and found our current church. I’ve written about this before. It took us a long time to trust this community, and at times, I still don’t. We’ve been on the recipient end of help instead of the giving end, and it’s made us feel unworthy. How could we not? The shame involved. The low times. The hard times.  We had been shunned by former churches, and I keep feeling the other shoe is about to drop here. We’ve even chosen not to do certain things because we don’t feel capable. Listen, we know in our head that God does love us unconditionally, but the heart is another story. It can be very hard to live into, and it’s even harder to not think we won’t be shunned again. But, I do my best each and every day to live into the grace of God and not in shame and loathing from Satan.

We’re on the other end of raising our children now as I’ve written about before. My husband is in a stable job that is a good fit, and we’re hopeful he’ll be able to stay there until he retires. I’m in a place where I can write, and we’re in a place where we can contribute. It is my hope, by laying my heart bare, that people can have a greater understanding of our story and why we react the way we do as we live our “abnormal” normal.

Have a great day, everyone!

 

The Most Important Kind of Love

I shouldn’t have worried about this week’s topic. With Valentine’s Day coming this Thursday, it was obvious what I was going to write about. Wait a minute! Valentine’s Day is this Thursday? It is, so if you have a romantic partner, you’d better get busy on finding a gift. But, for a Christian, there are more kinds of love besides romantic love, and that’s what I want to discuss today–what those kinds of love are and how we fail at expressing them.

We are all familiar with the first kind of love, and it’s the easiest one to express. It’s also the main reason people get each other gifts for Valentine’s Day. What is it? It’s romantic love, of course, or eros which is the Greek word for sensual or romantic love. People who are dating or married usually don’t have a problem expressing this kind of love. Whether by saying the spoken words, getting each other gifts, having children, or doing things for the other person, it’s the most accepted kind of love in the world and in the church. People don’t find it at all odd when spouses or dating partners express their love for each other. It’s accepted.

This love is followed closely by storge love which is Greek for love within the family. Love between parents and their children or love between siblings. People also consider this a natural kind of love. It’s not considered odd to hear parental love expressed for children or siblings expressing love for each other either in the world or in the church. In fact, in the church, there are more programs for married people and children for all ages because that is the defunct normal.

I’m going to define the next two types of love separately though I believe they are interrelated to a certain extent in how we fail to express them. First, there is philia love. Philia is a Greek term which explains the powerful emotional bond seen in deep friendships. Jesus said this love would identify his followers. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:35) I struggled with this a little bit because, of course, I don’t have deep emotional bonds with everyone. But still, Jesus wants us to have love for our fellow humans and have care, respect, and compassion for people in need. In simple terms, love them. But, can I do that by myself? Maybe, we should go to the next kind of love for the answer.

The final love is agape love. It’s perfect, unconditional, sacrificial, and pure. It represents God’s immeasurable and incomparable love for humankind. It is the kind of love Jesus demonstrated when he died on the cross for us and was resurrected. It is the kind of love we receive when we receive the Holy Spirit upon our profession of faith. It is the kind of love that shows we are His disciples.

Now, I come to the point where I think we, the church, have failed at expressing this love both in words and in actions. Love is a verb. It needs to be said, and it needs to be done. I listened to a speaker this past weekend who said we needed to be expressing love to the people around us. She said it would feel odd at first to tell someone we liked them a lot (I think she thought using the word love would be too strange.), but it was something Jesus wanted us to do. I understood the feeling strange part, but it convicted me too. We should be able to express love to each other and not think we have to qualify it. Sister to sister. Brother to brother. Brother to sister (who are not romantically involved). Sister to brother (who are not romantically involved). I think women in the church have an easier time doing this than men, but it’s important, and it’s what Jesus wants us to do. I believe expressing agape love in word and in deed will take the love of Jesus to where it needs to go, and maybe, just maybe, will change our world for the better. So, I issue you a challenge as I end. Tell at least three people who are not your spouse or your family that you love them this week. I truly think you will be glad you did.

May God bless you all today!

 

Called on Purpose

It took me awhile to wrap my head around the theme my church has for this year. It’s not that I don’t understand what Jesus is calling Christians to do. The Great Commission from Matthew 28:19-20 states it plainly. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I also understand the Scriptures my pastor used yesterday, one section of which showed how people were amazed by Jesus and how He found favor with God’s people and then, how people were amazed by the apostles and the wonders and signs they performed. I especially liked the Scripture from Acts which described the first century church. From Acts 2:42-47, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

I’ve always thought the ideal time for the church was when it was first formed. Now though, it is over two thousand years later, and we need to know what God wants for the church in the 21st century. For many years, I considered myself inadequate for God’s calling. I would look at Scriptures like the ones in Titus 2 and tell myself I looked nothing like the women in those Scriptures. I didn’t consider myself a good role model. (still don’t) My interests didn’t lie with anything  having to do with the home. I felt inadequate with the way God made me. There was no way God could have called me for anything on purpose. Not as a follower and especially not as any kind of leader. I loved Jesus, but I didn’t feel like I was any good at anything.

I had to go through that tension to know God made me the way I am for a point and a purpose. He is calling me to show His love in a way that is different from the person on my right and the person on my left. God is calling for me to be a part of a faith family, but He is also calling for me to use the gifts He has given me whether it is in my church or in the world. So, my called on purpose will look different from everyone else’s except for the overarching theme of showing God’s love.

What will that look like for me during the next few months? I’m still planning some things, but I’ve also got some things on my calendar. I’m going to participate in a 5-K walk to end cancer. This is a first for me as an adult. I never thought I would be in good enough shape to participate in a run or a walk, but things have changed since I made physical activity a priority. I’m also going to an anime convention with my son and husband next month. I’m looking forward to becoming more familiar with one of my son’s passions. And finally, I’m going to a writing workshop which is one of my passions. These things don’t even count the times my husband and I will be serving a meal at my son’s campus ministry in the next few weeks.

I look at all the things I wrote in the previous paragraph, and a point is becoming clearer to me. These are all events in my community and not in my church.  Maybe, that is what “called on purpose” really means. 🙂

Have a great day, everyone!

Sacrifice

I sit here on this Christmas Eve wondering what sacrifice really means. Wondering how it truly feels to put the interests of someone else above your own. Wondering how God felt when He sent Jesus to be our Savior. It’s an abstract concept to some. They’ve never seen anyone sacrifice for them. They’ve never been taught to sacrifice for others. But, even if the lessons have been taught, understanding what God did for us at Christmas and at Easter can be hard even for the most giving of us. We think we have to do something to earn the grace spoken of in Ephesians 2:8-9. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” We can’t see this grace so it’s hard to be conscious of it. 

But, we can see other people who claim to be believers. Should we expect to see sacrifice from them? Should we expect them to demonstrate Jesus’ words from John 13:34-35? “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” If people could see this love and willingness to sacrifice in us, it would be easier to see the love God has for us. It would be concrete. But, do they? Do they see this love and willingness to sacrifice in us? Sad to say, more often than not, they don’t. They see people in the church who are just as selfish as people who are not in the church. They see things like the prosperity gospel taught. They see us, and they see nothing different from the world around them.

In case you’re wondering, I count myself in that total. I can be just as selfish as the person who has rejected Jesus or the person who has never heard of Him. I reflect His love imperfectly, if at all. And it’s made me wonder what sacrifice really means. I wonder a lot if you haven’t figured it out already. 🙂 As a writer, the words I write and the words I read have an impact on my life. They help me to understand things that my brain alone has trouble understanding. It’s how I understand the world. Even the TV shows I watch can have this effect if I’ve already been wondering about something. 

With that being said, I want to tell you a story about a TV show that brought me to a deeper understanding of sacrifice. It wasn’t a Christian show, but it still had the same effect. Let me set the stage. I am a fan of science fiction. It shows me a world of  possibilities different from what I see in real life. Anyway, in the last few weeks,  I’ve been watching the most recent season of a particular show which features a group of people who have traveled back in time to save the world. They want to prevent their future from ever happening. Now, they weren’t altruistic all of the time. They did things for their own benefit to protect those they had come to love. They were imperfect just like those of us who are believers, and they had to go through many difficulties in the episodes I watched including death. In the last two episodes, one character was killed because he had prevented a nuclear explosion, and another was killed because she was trying to prevent the bad guys from getting the information inside her head. (Yes, this is the kind of TV I like to watch. 🙂 ) I’m guessing you probably realize the team was in turmoil at this point. Then, the leader of the team said something that has stuck with me through several viewings of the final episode. He had the opportunity to go further back in time to hopefully correct some of the mistakes they had made. When one of the other characters expressed doubts he could do so, he said, “Well, maybe I can give the years back to someone else.” His statement nagged me for a bit, and I had to watch the episode again to get it, like I said. He was willing to live the years again so other people could be happy with no benefit to him. It’s the truest example of sacrifice I had even seen on television. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know those were all scripted words. But, wow! Those characters showed sacrifice to me. From the man who reached for nuclear material without a second thought to the woman who shot herself in the head so the bad guys wouldn’t win to the man who went further back in time, they were all representative of sacrifice to me. I had to think about what this meant in my own life and with my own faith. 

I came up with some things I want to share. For me, sacrifice is standing in the background and letting someone else serve. Sacrifice is accepting you may not matter to some people and loving them anyway. Sacrifice is knowing what you do might not matter until you are gone, but doing it anyway. Sacrifice is being the person you are, the person God made, and only focusing on what He wants and no one else. Sacrifice is accepting His call no matter where it may take you. Sacrifice is giving everything you are to the one who made you. Isn’t that what Jesus did for us? 

Merry Christmas! 

Christmas and December Birthdays

It’s a week until Christmas Eve. Some of us might be about to put up our Christmas decorations and embark on a frantic week of shopping, baking, wrapping, and traveling while others of us have had our decorations up for weeks. We are drinking hot cocoa at night and listening to Christmas music having finished the Christmas shopping weeks before. I know people at all ends of the spectrum. 

In my home, we’ve done it differently each year. Right now, I am looking at a decorated home with many presents under the tree. There’s more left to wrap and just a few small things left to get. I don’t feel rushed, and I’m grateful. I’ve been able to focus on Jesus and the meaning of the season as well as listen to Christmas music. 

But, there’s a part of me that doesn’t feel like Christmas is about to come until after tomorrow. It’s been that way for almost twenty-two years. Let me explain. When I was growing up, more effort had to be put in to planning my birthday parties because, you guessed it, I had a December birthday. And, inevitably, one or more of my friends couldn’t come to my parties over the years because they were going to some Christmas event. I resented that when I was younger, but not so much now, and I’m not complaining now. That’s just how it was. I did learn the importance of one historical event during my growing-up years because of my birthday, and it led to a fascination with anything related to World War 2. Now, when someone asks about my birthday, I tell them I’m a Pearl Harbor baby. If they know their history, they know when my birthday is. 😉 

I say all this to give you background for the next part of the story. When I found out twenty-two years ago that my first child would be born close to Christmas, I decided I would make a point of celebrating his birthday each year and making sure he knew how special he was to me. The years have passed quickly. He will graduate from college in May and start his own life. There is no way I can tell you how proud I am of him. We’ll go out tomorrow night for dinner, have birthday cake, and have him open presents. Celebrate the anniversary of his birth. The conversation among others might be all about Christmas, but there are other important things to celebrate in my home. 

Now, after tomorrow, my focus will be solely on Christmas and the “reason for the season.” (This phrase is almost trite now, but I try to take each word and put meaning and thought behind it when I say it.) I’ve often wondered if God has a problem with my divided focus during the season. Of course, everyone in my family acknowledges the importance of the birth and death of Jesus. It’s part of the faith we all hold, after all. But, it’s important to me that my son doesn’t feel forgotten on his birthday, and, if I’m being honest, I don’t like feeling forgotten on my birthday either. Fortunately, over the years, I have had many friends who have made sure I haven’t felt forgotten on my birthday. My family has also done a good job of making me feel loved. My husband likes to say that he remembers our son and I so well, we forget his birthday at the beginning of January.  Not this year though. He’s just as special as the rest of us. 😉 

But, back to my question. Is God upset with my divided focus during the Christmas season? I don’t think so. My son and I and many more of his children are born during this month. We are all made in His image just like the people born in the other eleven months of the year. And, He loves us all. He loved us enough to send His Son Jesus all those years ago to be born and to die for us. I wrestle with this every day. How could someone love me that much? My heart would be broken if I had to watch my son die like Jesus died. But, he did that for me and for all of you. That’s why I don’t think God minds my divided focus. Because, you see, love doesn’t divide. Love multiplies. May you know the multiplying nature of Jesus’ love during this Christmas season! 

God bless you! 

Inspiration–God-Style

Over twelve years ago now, I met a special lady  online at a homeschool website. Her name was Betty. At first, I had cautious conversations with her and the other ladies on the website. I had just begun homeschooling, and they all sounded so accomplished. I wasn’t sure I would ever do as well as they seemed to have done. She and the other ladies must have talked me down a dozen times during my first year. They were always there on my screen with a word of encouragement. It might seem funny to you, considering someone a friend who could only be seen on a computer screen, but we were all doing something that was considered out of the norm. 

As the years passed, I noticed something different about Betty. She always pointed to Jesus in whatever conversation she was having. And, she took it further than being just a name on a screen. When my mother-in-law passed away suddenly in 2009, she took the lead in having cards and flowers sent, and she called me. I don’t remember how long we talked that day, but our conversation showed her heart, and it left me strength (God’s strength, I know now.) to keep going through the first days of my grief.  Betty was doing all of this while helping her husband fight cancer. She showed up for me then, and I will always be grateful. 

Sadly, the end of the following year saw her husband go to be with Jesus. She showed such amazing strength encouraging all of us–her online friends and her friends in real life. That time though turned out to be a time of tumult for both of us. For me, it was my husband’s surgery and subsequent loss of his job while I was still homeschooling. For her, it was the church not showing up when she was widowed. It still hurts me when I consider those words. How could someone not show up for such an amazing and gentle Christian? But, that is not really for me to consider as it is part of her story and not mine. 

While she was still going through her tumult the following year, she showed up for me again. We had gone out west so my husband could look for work, and we needed a place of respite for a few days. She provided her home, and she wasn’t even there. She had her son let us in, and those few days of rest encouraged all of us.  They took us to the following week when my husband received a job offer on our son’s twelfth birthday to go to Alabama. So, we drove back east to a new city and a new state to begin a new life. 

In the seven years since, a lot has happened to the both of us. I have finished homeschooling both of my sons through high school with one of them almost being done with college. Her children are all grown now as well. There have been job losses and hospital stays for my husband. She had one as well and had to learn to walk again. She also married again to a wonderful man. They’ve lived in two different states. 

Those are the facts, but what I want to talk about now is how she has inspired me. Like I said earlier, she points to Jesus with everything she does. Jesus, not a church.  She’s done what God has told her to do even when people in churches have told her it was impossible. She’s started a ministry to those in the adult entertainment industry, the “least of these” talked about in Scripture. She and her teammates go into the clubs to show the people there the love of Jesus, period. The name of the ministry is Xpose Hope. (https://xposehope.com/), and I would love it if you would explore the website and donate if God so leads you. I’ve also set up a Facebook fundraiser that lasts until the end of this week (https://www.facebook.com/donate/323209931601991/) if you want to go that route. She is reaching people, and she is loving people. People who would not go into a church building otherwise. And with all that, she inspires me. 

Now, I think I know Betty well enough to know she would be humbled by what I’ve written and would still point to Jesus regardless. But, I think you need to know why she specifically inspires me. As I’ve tried to figure out the question of ‘What comes next?’, I’ve felt God calling me to write. So, I’ve written. I’ve written stories, essays, and blog posts. I’m working on a book. It’s not as directly involved with people as Betty’s ministry is, but I’ve worked on getting better at what God has called me to do. My writing hasn’t received a lot of attention yet. I don’t think it’s been well understood. People still look at me oddly when I mention what I’m doing with my post homeschooling life, and it’s a lonely feeling. I’m going against the grain in many ways especially at church. But, I know Betty understands it, and that is why she inspires me. She has encouraged me with my writing, and she has encouraged me with other things I’ve felt called to do. She’s even encouraged me to do things with my callings pointing to Jesus and not to wait until a church says it’s okay. 

All of these things about her life have pointed me to Jesus and have inspired me at the same time. It brought me to an understanding yesterday morning too. Not everyone will understand what God has called me to do. Why should they? It’s my calling not theirs. So, I asked God for peace and not to feel lonely as I continue to consider the question of ‘What comes next?’, and I thanked God for the people He’s put in my life like Betty. 

Praying that God will give us all an idea of His calling and people to encourage us like Betty encourages me. 

God’s blessings on you all today! 

What Prevents Us from Turning Cynical?–Questions to Consider–Part 5

I didn’t think I would be asking this question the week after Thanksgiving, but several things brought it to mind, and I thought I would address them in today’s post. I do need to make it clear though that I did have a good Thanksgiving. This is just a culmination of something that happened over the holiday and questions I’ve been considering over the last few weeks.

What does prevent us from turning cynical? Is it violence on Thanksgiving Day? Yes, my city had a mall shooting that evening. People were hurt and killed, and many people’s lives were disrupted including people close to my son. I keep thinking of a line at another store which prevented another person from walking back into that mall when the shootings were happening. That was a “praise God” moment for us, but I think of the people’s lives that were disrupted. Of people who are no longer here. Of people who were injured or scared. And it brings me back to God. Why did He let this happen? There are no answers, of course, and I am tempted to let my heart turn hard and cynical. Of course, I could be honest and say let my heart turn harder and more cynical.

What about people who are told they’re not wanted in churches? I couldn’t imagine this happening, but it has happened to a friend of mine who runs a ministry to the “least of these” in another city. She was told flat-out that the people she was bringing to church were not welcome. It hurt my heart so much to hear this. I asked, ‘Why God?’ Aren’t we supposed to welcome all people to church and share about Jesus’ love? And my heart turned harder and more cynical.

Finally, what about the people who are closest to you? I tried a few weeks ago to protect one of them from overworking himself in the church. He’s on a sabbatical now, but I’m wondering if that was the right thing to do. God is convicting my heart we should all be willing to serve Him, and I do agree with that.  But, at what cost? Health? Family? Marriage? All of it? I don’t know the answer. I wish I did. Should we still love the people who refuse to serve because they’re afraid they’ll be overworked? My heart says yes to that question, but then it turns harder and more cynical towards those who won’t help and who won’t give leaving the work to the 5-10% of the membership who will. I count myself, to my shame, in that first group right now. Between the times I’ve failed, the times where my help wasn’t needed, and the times where I’ve just felt overlooked, I’ve become confused about what my role in the church is supposed to be.

Of course, none of the situations I’ve mentioned can prevent you from turning cynical. In fact, I’ve become more cynical with each one. But, I was recently looking at the You Version plans, and I saw one entitled Beating Cynicism. It intrigued me which is why I started it on Saturday. And I learned that my heart had hardened. Hardened to almost where it could be shattered. My attempts to protect because of fear were not what God wanted for me. He wants me to serve with hope. He wants the people I love the most to serve with hope. I thought I had moved past the situations that had hurt me so badly, but I just pushed them into a box never to be dealt with again.

Isn’t that what we do in the church? We don’t talk about the hurts and pretend that everything is okay. Sometimes we move on to other relationships or other churches. I don’t think God wants that for us either. But, what does He want? What does He want us to have the courage to do?

I believe it starts with one of the prayers included with the devotions. “Dear God, I admit it. I have stopped hoping, stopped believing, and stopped trusting. But, you haven’t. And because you haven’t, I don’t want to stay the way I am. Give me the courage to hope again, trust again, and believe again. Amen.” Because, I do want my heart to be soft again. I want to be able to say I can trust people as well as trusting my Lord and Savior. I’m not saying we shouldn’t trust our Lord and Savior. I’m saying I don’t want to go into a situation always thinking that the other person is going to let me down.

So, can I ask a favor of those of you who are believers? Can we offer each other encouragement instead of judgment? Can we let each other cry when we are in pain? Can we try to understand instead of condemn? Can we be the community Jesus wants us to be instead of pretending? I promise I will try, and I hope you do too.

God bless you all!

 

Thanksgiving

I’m taking a break from my “questions to consider” series to consider this uniquely American holiday that is coming up in just a few days. To be fair, God wants us to be thankful all of the time, but we tend, at this time of year, to put a little more thought into it.

So, what does God say about being thankful? Scripture has numerous examples of which I will share only a few. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”

I also like Philippians 4:6-7 though it is so hard to do. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Finally, there are two verses, one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament, similar to one another that I think express God’s thoughts about thankfulness. From I Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Then, from I Chronicles 16:34, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

God wants us to be thankful, but we often forget. We often forget to even look for His presence which I am most definitely guilty of. Last night though, I made a deliberate choice which brought me a tremendous blessing. Let me set the stage. There was a community Thanksgiving service I really wanted to go to. Illness and lack of desire made sure I would have no companions from my household. Now, this is a thing for me. I hate walking into somewhere by myself where the expectation is that others will be with me so I almost didn’t go. But, then I said to myself that maybe this was my chance to encounter God, on my own. So, that’s what I did. I went, sat by myself, and had an amazing time of worship on the back row. God spoke to me through the music and through the words, and I was able to focus on Him alone. He gave me insights and a deep sense of peace and thanksgiving. It was what I needed.

I’m very thankful for a God who is always present in our lives!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Why are We Afraid to Ask for Help?–Questions to Consider–Part 4

I’m four weeks into this series and finally getting the groove of how I want to ask my questions and consider the possible answers to them. I’ve written about questions that required Scripture reading for possible answers, and I’ve written about questions that showed how Christianity related to the larger world around us. Today, I’m going to ask a question about how we relate to the Christian community around us, that is, our faith family. Now, some of us might not have a faith family, but I think the question still applies. Here it is. Why are we afraid to ask for help?

First, I believe there are many nuances to this question. Are we asking for money or something else? Do we have a faith family? Do we have people we trust in our faith family? Do we have people we trust at all? Are we stubborn or prideful enough that we even struggle to answer the question? Do we subscribe to an individualist philosophy? Do we judge others for needing help which makes us afraid of being judged? Do we believe no one will help us? I could go on and on with the questions, but I think I’ve made my point.

The other day I was watching a TV show I’ve recently become of a fan of–The Man in the High Castle. If you’re not familiar with it, here is the premise. The United States did not win World War 2–the Germans and the Japanese did. They’ve taken over the eastern and western parts of the US, respectfully, with a neutral zone in-between. Anyway, the show takes place in the 1960’s, and there are people who have embraced the conquerors and people who are resisting. I’ve learned about literary elements, the shades of grey between black and white, and how history has been affected by all of it.  It was the first example I thought of when I thought of this topic.

The son of a family who had embraced Nazi culture developed a neuromuscular disease for which there was no cure. People like this were called bottom feeders on the show. They couldn’t contribute and weren’t worth keeping alive so they were encouraged to kill themselves. When the parents found out about this, they couldn’t ask for help because they were afraid. Their son would die, and of course, they didn’t want to lose their son. The story line continued over a few episodes, and eventually the son found out. He ended up turning himself in, and he was killed. The saddest part was that there was a “memorial” service where he was celebrated because he was killed. In that society, there was no way they could ask for help because of their fear, a fear that was well-founded.

But, isn’t that true today in real life? We’re afraid of what giving help will cost us in time and money so we don’t want to ask for it ourselves because we will be on the other end of that dichotomy. It’s shown when we’re afraid of immigrants who want the security we have. It’s shown when we’re afraid of the homeless person. It’s shown when we’re afraid of the widow or the orphan. it’s shown when we’re afraid of the unemployed person. I want to ask this though. Did God call us to be afraid? Nope. I John 4:18 says this, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Another reason someone might not ask for help is because of their stubbornness or pride in thinking they can do it by themselves. In Western society especially, we have this idea we’re not supposed to ask for help, and we’re supposed to do everything on our own. I’ve seen it shown in advertisements from missions organizations which say recipients of help have some “skin in the game”, so to speak. I’ve seen it shown when someone who received help for a foster child (from friends who wanted to help) felt the need to apologize and to say they really could handle it by themselves. There are more examples which remind me of Proverbs 16:18. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

So, we’re not supposed to have fear, and we’re not supposed to have pride. (I would classify this as unhealthy pride.) What then do we need to do to become more willing to ask for help? This, I believe, is where having a faith family comes in. And not just any faith family. I could tell you many stories about people who have been betrayed by their faith families because they could not handle the bad times. We all need faith families we can trust who will be there for the good times and the bad times to be the community God has called us all to be.

I wish I could say I had been perfect at this. In fact, the reason I’m writing about this topic is because last week was a rough one. It was the culmination of my loss of courage over the past few weeks. I had to be courageous enough to tell my true feelings and say what was on my heart. I had to reach out and ask for help. It was hard. So hard. I didn’t think I was worthy of it. But God gave me the courage, and I did. The rewards were more than I could have asked for. The best result was how God’s peace and certainty poured into my heart. And I’ve learned a lesson too. We are all worthy of help no matter what anyone at a church may tell us. We’re God’s children, and we’re not alone. He is always there for us, and if He is always there, shouldn’t we always be there for each other?

God bless you all!

What is Sin Nature? – Questions to Consider – Part 3

As I’ve mentioned before, topics come to me in a multitude of ways. I can read them in a book, hear them in a conversation, see them in the outdoors or in a store, or the words just appear in my head. Today’s topic for my “questions to consider” series came down two of those paths. The first one was from my writing inspiration book. The prompt was “So many people are selfish, greedy, and unfriendly…” I’ve already lived enough life to know this is a true statement. And it can be discouraging when I do my best to be kind, and it’s not reciprocated. The other path was two words appearing in my head–sin nature. I’d already been thinking of the depravity in today’s world with the shootings in Pennsylvania and with all of the divisive and rhetoric that is so prevalent especially with tomorrow’s elections in the United States. It makes me wonder how God puts up with us. It also brought me to today’s question–what is sin nature and why does it still exist in this world? I guess that’s two questions. 🙂 But, I think we’ve all wondered why bad things happen in this world and where God was in the midst of them. I’m going to attempt to answer this today, but I’ll go ahead and warn you I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think anyone does except God.

First, I think a simple definition is in order. From gotquestions.org, “The sin nature is that aspect in man that makes him rebellious against God. When we speak of the sin nature, we refer to the fact that we have a natural inclination to sin; given the choice to do God’s will or our own, we will naturally choose to do our own thing.” To translate this into language we can all understand, we are all born bad. It can’t be seen in the youngest of us, but it can definitely be seen in toddlers who we take a lot of time teaching to share and to tell the truth. It can be seen much more as we get older.

We can’t overcome this by ourselves which is why it says this in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. “Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” God knew we would need to hear His teaching continually for it to take hold in our lives.

Writers in the New Testament also talked about sin and sin nature. From Romans 5:12, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” I John 1:8 is a clear example to us. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There are many more examples, too many for this post, but I think the point is clear. Sin is present in each of us.

Only one person hasn’t had a sin nature. Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life, died on the cross, and was brought back to life. What He did is the reason we can be born again. We inherit a new nature as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.” To consider this has happened as a result of my faith gives me great joy.

But, we also need to know that our sin nature doesn’t disappear when we receive Christ as our Savior. Bad things still happen in our world, and Christians can still do bad things because of sin. Knowing this in our hearts can help with the questions of illness, abuse, greed, broken marriages, fighting, and any other sin that is out there.

We have help though. Help from God. He sends His Holy Spirit to take up residence in each believer and supplies the power we need to overcome the pull of our sin nature. I’m reminded of what it says in I Corinthians 10:13. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can endure it.” He will help us with sin if we only ask Him.

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking–Christians and non-Christians alike. You’ve seen all these people claiming to be Christians doing bad things. You’ve seen people who aren’t Christians acting better than some Christians. What’s the difference? Why should you even consider this faith? While I wouldn’t presume to know someone’s standing with God (That’s between them and God.), I would look at their deeds–what they do. These deeds are not a requirement to become a Christian–only accepting Jesus and His love can do that, but you’re supposed to see them afterwards. There are many examples in Scripture, but I think the one in the book of Matthew is the best. Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Genuine relationship with God should make us want to glorify Him and not ourselves.

No one will be perfect in this though. The Bible says that we will struggle with our old nature as long as we are in this world. But, those who are in genuine relationship with God will come to Him in repentance for what they have done wrong each and every time. For those innocents who have been touched by the evil of this world, God heals. I know He does. It will be in His time though, not ours. That is our challenge–to trust our Lord and Savior through pain, suffering, and what we cannot see while showing His love for those who most need it.

God bless you all!