Sunday, November 01, 2015

Clinging to Our Pigs

“For this is what the Lord, the Master, the Holy One of Israel says, “If you repented and patiently waited for me, you would be delivered; if you calmly trusted in me, you would find strength.  But you are unwilling” (Isaiah 30:15).

It’s hard to believe that it has been years since I have written.  More time has passed than I had realized until today. It is not because I have not had much to say, or that I’ve lost or lacked the conviction(s) I once so often shared.  So much has happened since I last posted in April 2012. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve experienced great sadness and loss— some of which I am still not quite ready to write about— and I’ve experienced great joy— most notably, the birth of my second sweet and precious son, Bowen, this past April. But my purpose for writing today isn’t so much to catch up for those who may still follow or happen to come across my blog, if any do, as much as it is to share something (or record for myself something) I feel convicted of at this place and in this season of my life.  

It hit me this morning as I listened to my senior pastor, Lon Solomon, of McLean Bible Church, preach a sermon about valuing people based on the well-known passage in Mark 5 where Jesus heals the man of an evil spirit that is sent into a herd of pigs that run into the sea and drown.  And I think what came to mind applies both to those who do not and maybe even more so, to those of us who do profess to know the Lord. 

We tend to cling to our pigs.

Mark’s account tells us that Jesus came into the Gerasenes on the other side of Galilee by boat and that as He stepped onto land, He met a man controlled by an evil spirit, who had lived among the tombs, where he spent night and day screaming and cutting himself with stones.  This man who had come out of the tombs to meet Jesus was so tortured by this evil spirit that he could not be controlled.  He was literally out of control. So much so that the people had often tried to restrain him by chaining him up, hand and foot, only to see him break the chains and return to the tombs or the mountainside where he cried out, harming himself.  When the man saw Jesus, it was from a distance, and he ran to Him and literally fell down at His feet, bowing down before Him.  And it is at this moment that the spirit calls out to Jesus, confessing Jesus’ authority over Him, and pleads with Him.  Jesus commands the spirit to come out of the man saying, “You evil spirit, come out of the man.” In doing this, Jesus causes the spirit to identify himself by name.  Jesus asks the spirit, “What is your name?” and the spirit responds, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”  Some translations read, “For there are many of us.”

Whereas the text before this question referred to the spirit binding the man who ran to meet Jesus as “an evil spirit,” it goes on to say, “The demons begged [Jesus]…” 

So at this point of the story, we learn not only that Jesus has dominion over the demons, who know exactly who He is (as James teaches at 2:19), but the extent to which the man who ran and fell before Jesus’ feet is afflicted by his demons.  In this sense — literal demons. 

The text goes on to tell us that, at Jesus’ command, the demons went out of the man and into a large herd of pigs feeding nearby on a mountainside and that the pigs rushed down the cliff into the sea and drowned.  To this miraculous event, we see two very different reactions.

The man, once afflicted, once bound, and now set free, responds to Jesus by begging to stay with Him.  But Jesus has a plan for this man’s life that will bring glory to His name and reach many people for His names’ sake as the man shares what Jesus has done for him to other’s amazement.  

“As Jesus stepped into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged him, "Let me stay with you." But Jesus would not allow it. Instead, He told the man, "Go home to your family, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how merciful He has been to you." So the man left. He began to tell how much Jesus had done for him in the Ten Cities. Everyone was amazed” (Mark 5:18-20).

Those who heard the man’s account were amazed.  But what about those who witnessed this same event with their own eyes?   

“Those who took care of the pigs ran away. In the city and countryside they reported everything that had happened. So the people came to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons. The man was sitting there dressed and in his right mind. The people were frightened. Those who saw this told what had happened to the demon-possessed man and the pigs. Then the people began to beg Jesus to leave their territory” (Mark 5:14-16).

What can we make of this disparate reaction?  The healed man and those he shared news of his healing with were amazed.  But those who took care of the pigs and those they shared the news with: they begged Jesus to go away.  WHY?

There appears to be no doubt that everyone who witnessed what Jesus had done with their own eyes recognized Jesus’ authority over the demons. There is certainly no doubt that the man who shared the news with his family boasted of Jesus’ healing power and authority when he did so. When he ran to tell his family what Jesus had done for him, he presented himself as a new man, in every way changed by Jesus’ mercy — and there is no doubt his family recognized that and were amazed.  What a powerful testimony!   

But the men who cared for the pigs and their owners and the people they shared the same account with — they were frightened, and rather than running to Jesus, falling at His feet, and begging for the same healing or mercy over the demons in their lives (literally or figuratively), they returned and begged Jesus to leave their land.  WHY?  

Presumably because of their financial interest in the pigs.  Here was Jesus, standing before them, showing His mercy and power.  And here, this group of men were turning and running in the opposite direction because they cared more for their financial interests than they did their souls.  They chose their pigs over healing.

Hearing this story that I’ve read so many times again this morning, I could not help but ask myself: 

Do we really want healing or do we cling to our pigs?

If we know Scripture, we are familiar with the many instances in which those who were afflicted pled on their own behalf for Jesus to be merciful before Jesus turned and healed them.  We can also recall many instances of people seeking Jesus out to ask for healing for those they love. And Jesus time and time again declares that faith has resulted in healing.   

One of the most poignant examples I can think of is where Jesus heals the centurion’s daughter in Matthew 8 after the officer declares that he is not worthy to have Jesus come into his home and essentially declares that Jesus is so powerful and has such authority, that He does not even need to come to heal his young servant, but that if He said the word, his servant would be healed.  Jesus declared that He had not seen faith like this in all of Israel before telling the man, “Because you have believed, it has happened.”  Earlier in that same chapter of Matthew, we see Jesus heal a man with leprosy who acknowledges, “Lord, if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”  Jesus responds by reaching out and touching this man, who likely had not known a human’s touch for many years, and said, “I am willing.  Be healed.”  

There are numerous references throughout Scripture, in the New Testament and the Old, to this concept.  If we would seek the Lord and His healing from the demons in our lives, He would respond to us.  Would He always bring healing?  Well, we know from a careful examination of Scripture, as well as our own experience walking with Him, that He doesn’t always heal. And we have Paul himself as a witness to God’s purpose in sometimes leaving a thorn in the flesh and James himself giving us numerous reminders that sometimes we must suffer affliction because God has a greater purpose for our lives and 
is more concerned with our character than our momentary comfort.  There are many other examples, but the concept remains the same: we either recognize the strongholds in our lives and seek His power and provision and the wisdom He would freely give — or we cling to our pigs, counting temporary, earthly things, even things that bring us great harm, more important than what He offers us.

“Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit He has placed within us should be faithful to Him. And he gives grace generously.  As the Scriptures say, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ So place yourselves under God's authority. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. Come close to God, and He will come close to you. Clean up your lives, you sinners, and clear your minds, you doubters” (James 4:7-8).

So the question I want to pose today — and have surely asked myself — is this:  

What are the “pigs” in your life?  

What are you clinging to more dearly than you are clinging to Jesus? What are you chasing after in the expectation that it will satisfy more than you are chasing Him?  What bondage ensnares you to the point that instead of falling at His feet and asking for the healing or mercy or wisdom that you know He can give and promises to give, it has you running in the opposite direction?  

And more importantly — WHY?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Reflections on what I thought I knew

"It's clear enough to me, the ugliness I see is evidence of Who I need..." (NEEDTOBREATHE)

How many times have I prayed to forget the mistakes of my past and the many ways I have fallen short and grieved God by my willful disobedience, while trying to remedy that desire with the reminder that painful memories help keep me from falling into the same strongholds and help me recognize the wrong-thinking that led me far from God in the first place? When I’m reminded in the slightest of who I’ve been at my worst, I am overwhelmed by feelings of self-loathing and regret, tempered only by the strongest sense of gratitude for how far God has brought me to get me to this point – a point in my life where I and my circumstances are still so far from perfect, but where I am assured and sustained by the knowledge that I am in His will, that He cares for me, and that He is working all things together for my good, even though I don’t deserve it.

I look back on a girl and a life I do not recognize, on a past and a story that sometimes doesn’t feel like my own, and I realize how great the disconnect between myself and that girl has become, and how great the distance between my current life and those former things has widened, and how much God has changed me and grown me through it all; how much He has blessed me, as hateful and sinful in my heart as I can be, as prone to failure as I am. It is painful, but at the same time humbling to realize the depths from which God rescued me. But grateful as I am, I’ve often wished that I’d not sunken so low before finding much firmer footing in God’s will.

Given how intensely I’ve been feeling as of late, imagining just how much my past actions have grieved God, you can imagine how overwhelmed I felt yesterday morning, when in studying the Word, I came upon a passage that gave me a much broader perspective, and helped me realize that, all along, even at the height of my disobedience, God’s plan was taking shape, and that, even then, His hand was on my life in ways I couldn’t yet see.

“God looks at our past lives from a completely different perspective. God was accomplishing His will even through our own failures and sin” (Dan DeHaan). 

I’ve been leading a small group through Dan DeHaan’s The God You Can Know, a book recommended by a dear friend when I was going through difficult times not too long ago, that helped remind me of the need to put my focus on God and who He is rather than my circumstances, to love and worship Him for all He is rather than for what He does for me, and most importantly, to be seeking to know Him more and more. The chapters we are covering tomorrow, which I was preparing for yesterday when I came upon the passage that is the premise for this post, deals with The Perfections of God. Among them: how Incomprehensible, Perfect, Unchanging, All-powerful, All-knowing, Ever-present, Good, Holy, and Sovereign He is.

In addressing God’s Sovereignty, DeHaan recalls “the battle of Jonah’s hard head against the sovereignty [of] God,” and concludes that the story of Jonah shows us that God will accomplish His purposes and His will regardless of our disobedience. When reading through Jonah this morning, something else about the passage struck me. Not only did God accomplish His purposes despite Jonah’s actions, but God’s plan took Jonah’s actions into account and used Jonah’s missteps for His Glory and His purposes. Put more simply, Jonah didn’t somehow mess up God’s plan for his life. God had a plan for his life that took into consideration the mistakes he would make because God forknew them. The same way He foreknew mine.

For those of you not familiar with the story of Jonah, please allow me to briefly recount:

God commands Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against it. Jonah refuses and runs away, catching a boat to the furthest destination from Nineveh that he can reach. Not only is Jonah running away, the Bible says that he is seeking to avoid God’s presence (as if such a thing were possible).

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7)

While en route, God sends a storm that causes the men on the boat to question who has brought God’s wrath upon them. Ultimately, it is revealed that Jonah’s disobedience has roused God’s anger. Jonah essentially professes his faith and asks the men to throw him overboard so that they might survive. When the men refuse, God increases the storm such the men not only acknowledge that it is God who has brought this storm but they cry out to Him and ask Him to spare their lives.  Ultimately, they throw Jonah into the sea. As soon as Jonah is in the water, the storm immediately calms and the men begin to fear God and to make vows to Him (Jonah 1:1-17).

I stop here for the time being to reflect on this part of the story that occurs before Jonah ever finds himself in the belly of the “whale,” the part of the story Jonah is most famous for. Surely, Jonah’s disobedience was not pleasing to God. Yet, God, being All-knowing, had a plan not only for Jonah’s life that took Jonah’s disobedience into account, but also a plan for the lives of the men on the boat, who, through the repercussions of Jonah’s fleeing God’s will and attempting to avoid His presence, watched as God demonstrated His existence, His power and authority over the wind and the waves and over their lives. God used it all for His glory because He had a purpose for Jonah’s life and for the lives of the men in the boat.

So… Jonah finds himself sinking into the sea, thinking he is about to die, when suddenly, a “huge fish” swallows him. It is important to note that the Bible makes it clear that this was no accident. Rather, God “provided [this] huge fish to swallow Jonah” (Jonah 1:17). And there Jonah remains for 3 days and 3 nights until He cries out to God and praises Him, and the fish spits him up (literally vomits him) onto dry land. God commands Jonah a second time to go to Nineveh and preach and this time Jonah obeys. He goes to Nineveh and proclaims that God will overthrow the city in 40 days time. Upon hearing the message, the people (“from the greatest to the least of them”) believe God, and begin fasting and repenting. Even the king lays aside his robe and begins to repent and orders that his subjects repent and turn away from their evil and violence. God sees that the people have turned away from their evil ways and “relents” from the disaster He said He would bring (Jonah 2:1 – 3:10).

Did God change His mind? Perhaps. But, wouldn’t God being All-Knowing have known from the beginning of time that He would spare the city of Nineveh? I can’t help but believe that He knew that he would use Jonah to reach these people in this exact way.

When God decides to spare Nineveh, Jonah is incensed.  The Bible says that "to Jonah, this seemed very wrong" (Jonah 4:1).  He acknowledges that God is a God of mercy and justice but yet he is angry that God has "relented from sending calamity."

It’s easy to imagine that Jonah might have wondered why God bothered sending Him to preach against the city at all if He was going to allow it to go unpunished for its many sins. Maybe He was angry that God’s anger rose up against Him on the boat and yet, these people appeared to be getting a free pass for behavior that seemed so much worse. The Bible says that, at this point, Jonah becomes so angry that he wants to die, to the extent that he asks God to take his life.

But God does not take Jonah's life.  Instead, He asks Jonah if it is right for him to be angry. Over the course of the next two days God uses everything that has happened and will happen to teach Jonah about His Love and Mercy. Jonah decides to sit and watch to see what will become of Nineveh. While he is sitting there, a leafy plant grows up over him and gives him shade and comfort. The Bible says that God “provided” it and that “Jonah was very happy about the plant” (Jonah 4:5-6). God allows Jonah to experience this for one day. However, the next day, God provides a worm to chew the plant and the plant withers. The sun is now beating down on Jonah’s head, God sends a scorching east wind and Jonah becomes faint, again becoming so distressed that he wants to die. God asks Jonah whether it is right for him to be angry about the plant. And God uses the analogy of Jonah’s love and concern for the plant, which he only knew for one day to show how much He loves His people, who He created despite their disobedience. Here is what He said:

“You have been concerned (other versions say “had pity”) about this plant though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight. And should I not have concern (“ pity”) for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left – and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11).

I can’t help but wonder if this turn of phrase was used to remind Jonah that these people had been lost and had been sinning without knowing the God they were sinning against. And here is Jonah, sinning against the God he knew, the God who had revealed Himself to him and given him clear instruction. And he is grieved that God would show mercy to these lost people.

Yesterday, as I read this, I was filled with an overwhelming sense that God knew the mistakes and missteps I would make, and that its not so much that He redirected my life accordingly – or that I missed out on some other better plan-- rather, He had a plan for my life that took those mistakes and missteps into account from the very beginning because every day of my life was written in His book before one of them came to pass (Psalm 139:16). Even now, He uses those mistakes, reminders of the "pits" He pulled me out of (as He rescued Jonah from the belly of the huge fish) to remind me of how much I am loved in that He saved me despite all my failings and despite the fact that I will inevitably fail again. And for the first time, in some weird sense, I felt grateful to have experienced the painful consequences of sin because if I had not, I might not realize just how blessed and loved I am. I might take His Sacrifice for granted. It struck me that all that happened in my life, all the things I brought upon myself and which were brought upon me, things I've sometimes questioned God for, were orchestrated to bring me to a place where I could realize His Power and Grace, His Mercy, Forgiveness and Love because He knew me and knew what it would take to bring me to this point.

To the realization that it was all worth having gone through.

Friday, March 02, 2012

A Unspeakable Loss

It’s been a while since I have written. 2012 has hit our family very hard. Most notably, my beloved mother-in-law passed away in January after a nearly year-long battle with lung cancer. Although we are undoubtedly comforted in knowing that she has gone on to be with our Lord and Savior, there is still pain, and at times the void her loss has left feels like more than we can bear.

Nevertheless, God is faithful and has sustained us through each and every day. At this point, we are just taking life one day at a time, seeking His will and trying our best to show our gratitude to Him for all He has blessed us with. Sometimes that is all you can do.

Although my faith has never failed me, shortly before my mother-in-law passed away, it seemed my faith was failing. I was so caught up in what I could not feel: a sense of peace, that I just felt lost. I am so humbled and comforted in knowing that all along God had me in the palm of His hand and that He knew and knows how He would use it for His glory in ways I’ve seen and in ways that are yet to be seen.

Words seem to fail me these days. All I can say is that I am so grateful to have had the last 6 and a half years knowing my mother-in-law. She was a living example of the Proverbs 31 wife. Always focused on the needs of others, never complaining, and braver than anyone I have ever met. She is everything I want to be as a wife and as a mother. I will never forget her and I cannot wait to see her again.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Blue Valentine: An atypical movie with a typical message

It’s been quite a while since I have written a movie review –lots of noteworthy movies have come out since Superman in 2006! -- but recently, M and I watched an independent film, which I cannot help but want to write about for so many reasons. “Blue Valentine,” is the story of a marriage at its sad conclusion. It has been hailed as a film that anyone who has been in love and fallen out in the end can relate to. In very vivid, sometimes more explicit than necessary, flashbacks, the film takes us back to the root of this failed relationship between Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling), who are extremely convincing and effective in their roles, despite some very awkward moments shared onscreen. The contrast between the two young lovers who impulsively decide to get married sharing a tearful exchange of their vows and the married couple visibly aged and disenchanted six years later parting ways in total defeat could not be more stark.

The film is an obituary of a relationship that offers an uncomfortably intimate look into a marriage that was troubled before it began. The cause of death (in my estimation): impulsivity, a lifelong commitment made on the basis of feelings, selfishness, a lack of effort to reverse course and desire to make things right, and the absence of faith – factors all too common nowadays in an age where celebrities and mental health providers alike are proselytizing that marriage is no longer beneficial, realistic or advisable and where the divorce rate is alarmingly high, even among Christians.

From the opening of the film, it is clear that Dean’s proclivities, which may have once seemed charming now grate on Cindy’s nerves. The very first glimpse of Cindy, in which she is awakened by her husband and young daughter, who eagerly and playfully rouse her in her bed, reveals how unhappy, disenchanted, and bitter she has become. Dean, on the other hand, is content as a father and husband and with the fact that he can drink before going to work at 8 o’clock in the morning to paint houses. He has no ambition for the future apart from wanting more children and this clearly bothers Cindy who works as a nurse, having abandoned her youthful ambition to go to medical school, which, we learn, was the result of becoming a mother after an unplanned pregnancy (a choice she makes in the middle of attempting to undergo an abortion). It is obvious that Cindy has no respect for Dean and that the fact that his love for her and her child are all he desires out of life causes her to despise him. While it is easy to relate to some of Cindy’s misgivings about Dean, there is never any doubt that his love for his family is genuine. He admits that he never aspired to become a husband and a father but now takes pride in the fact that he honored those commitments and has become who he was meant to be. Who he has become is precisely what Cindy despises. Whereas their marriage and family represents Dean's identity, for Cindy, it embodies the loss of her own.

Over the course of the film, we learn that Cindy’s decision to have her daughter has resulted in a marriage premised on little more than that decision and a few brief encounters spent in reckless abandon between two teenagers in way over their heads. The feelings which marked her early relationship with Dean have turned into such disdain and resentment that she clenches her fists and squeezes her eyes shut during their lovemaking to the point where Dean feels so rejected that he can’t continue - a stark contrast to the sexual encounters that preceded their marriage, including an unnecessarily graphic scene, which lingers uncomfortably long – far longer than needed to make its point. Passive aggressiveness has replaced the passion Cindy once felt and the tenderness Dean once displayed and now seems to reserve mostly for their daughter. The more attentive to Cindy he is, the more she seems to despise him. We do not know what has led to these feelings but the glimpses we get of Dean make it easy to imagine what it is about Dean that Cindy finds it difficult to get past.

To say that Blue Valentine is raw and honest is an understatement -- too honest at times. While I understand the contrasts the director is attempting to draw and appreciate his artistic vision and desire to make the movie as true to life as possible, I wish that today’s filmmakers didn’t feel such an overwhelming need to showcase sexuality so graphically. All too often, such scenes add very little to a film (i.e., the unnecessary scenes in Black Swam which added nothing to the storyline that couldn’t have been conveyed without being so over-the-top and graphic). Hollywood will inevitably continue to push the envelope, but it seems to have reached a level where the public has become as de-sensitized to sex as it has become to violence and cursing. It is one thing that Blue Valentine’s NC-17 rating was downgraded to R. It is another that the viewing public has yawned at the downgrade and argued that the sexuality depicted is “not that bad.” In truth, many scenes in the movie are positively pornographic. I digress…

In an early scene in Blue Valentine, we learn that Cindy has inadvertently caused the death of the family’s dog, which in a rare moment brings the couple together in love as they hold each other and weep at their kitchen table. This is a sharp contrast to the exchange between the couple when they try to rekindle their romance – something Cindy obviously wants no part in – at a cheesy hotel in a room called very appropriately titled “the future room.” It is an even sharper contrast to the terms on which the couple leaves off. Their sorrow over the death of their dog seems greater than the sorrow experienced at the death of their marriage. Just as Cindy consoles Dean after the death of their dog, she consoles him at the death of their marriage, seemingly feeling nothing but certain that divorce is the only option available to her -- the only hope for her to regain her identity or reinvent herself in a life without him, a life not tied to a painful past or quite so many regrets.

The events leading up to the end include a chance encounter on the way to the “future” with a lover from Cindy’s past that gives more context to the father-daughter relationship between Dean and the couple’s little girl than the audience initially suspects. The emotional strain produced by the death of the family dog, this chance meeting which digs up so many past hurts and regrets, and the failed attempt at romance in the cheesy hotel room with the spinning bed, balloons into a violent confrontation at Cindy’s job which results in the end of Cindy’s career as she knows it, as well as the couple’s marriage later that day. In the final scene, we see the couple’s young daughter running after Dean, distraught that the only father she has ever known is being made to leave. While the audience is left with a remaining shred of hope that the characters may ultimately be reconciled to one another, the film gives very little reason to believe that this is a realistic possibility. Blue Valentine certainly conveys a very pessimistic view of love and moreover, of marriage.

While the film does reflect a lot of truth in the way that so many relationships nowadays conclude, sadly, the lesson seems to be that having children complicates good relationships, that marriage takes the fun out of sex, that love doesn’t last, and that individual happiness in the moment is far more important than providing a stable and loving home for children. It is not difficult to imagine that many viewers left the film thinking that if Cindy had gone through with the abortion, her life might have turned out better. How sad is that? The film arguably promotes the concept that marriage inevitably becomes an unbearable hell. While feelings undoubtedly change as surely as they wax and wane over time and in the midst of various circumstances, marriage was never meant to be premised on feelings or happiness alone. The message in popular culture nowadays seems to be that love is little more than a feeling undeniably intertwined with lust and that being in love (i.e. perpetual butterflies) is the primary purpose for becoming and staying married. This is not to say that feeling in love and feeling happy aren’t worthy purposes or a part of marriage but to say that they are the only purposes is an understatement of the greatest magnitude.

In typical movies, most movies, definitely not this one, we usually see the best parts of candy-coated relationship, perpetuating the idea that the best relationships are those defined by constant bliss. Those of us who have loved and gone through life or marriage know that love, marriage and life in general are rarely like that. So while I give the movie credit for attempting to be honest in showing that marriage has its drawbacks and creating something that feels real on so many levels, at the same time, I wish that it did not further promote the message that marriages naturally should end when the initial sparks fade.

Marriages that are able to survive the dark and troubled times grow stronger and the passion deepens over time and with experience and becomes something so much better and more beautiful than "butterflies." Still, I suspect that if the film had shown Cindy and Dean go through counseling, find faith in Jesus, commit to praying for their marriage and working through their problems, honoring their commitment to each other and their obligation to their child, and fighting for their family, it would be less dark, disturbing and thought provoking in the way it was intended to be.

The movie is beautiful precisely because it is dark and haunting; because it gets under your skin and makes you think. I imagine that it caused a lot of married couples facing difficult times to reflect on their own relationships and unique challenges. I can only hope it will not encourage the same outcome...

Blue Valentine was Rated R on appeal for strong graphic sexual content, language, and a beating; originally rated NC-17 for a scene of explicit sexual content.

Friday, April 22, 2011

In Spite of Feeling

Daily, I've been fighting to get past an array of feelings that at times overwhelm and at times are absent when they seemingly shouldn't be. My mother-in-law's illness, my grandmother's accident/surgery/hospitalization, the pressures and struggles that have accompanied this sour economy and the transitions I have made in the last year in life on personal and professional levels (enduring a difficult pregnancy, moving, becoming a mom, finishing law school, moving again, starting my career, studying for and taking the Bar -- trying to wear more hats than my head can hold) -- it has surely taken a toll on me this past year. In truth, most days, I am not thriving. Most days, the most I can hope for is to survive. Most days I feel as though I am barely reaching that goal.

Today is Good Friday. The day we celebrate Jesus' ultimate sacrifice: His death for us on the cross. The day we are reminded of the price that we were purchased at and the extent of His love for us: that He would endure such vile and undeserved punishment just to set us free, so that we might see Heaven someday and be with Him for eternity. This Easter season marks my 11th re-birthday. 11 years since I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my Lord & Savior and asked Him to make me a "new creation." As noted above, I do not always "feel" like a new creation. I do not always feel free through Jesus' death on the cross. Mostly, I feel owned and consumed by my circumstances. I forget sometimes that I am His and that He is in me.

During this Lenten season, I committed myself to reading through the Gospels every morning on my way to work. I finished this morning, ending my journey through these books with the Gospel of John. Towards the end of this book, I re-discovered Jesus' prayer for us. I'm sure I have read it many times before, but it "felt" new to me this year. After Jesus prayed for His disciples, He said:

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (John 17:20-26).

As a believer, I accept Jesus at His Word. I believe that what He says is true. There is no doubt in my mind. But I don't always feel it.

The world tells us that we should live according to what we feel. Marriages are ended everyday because people just don't "feel" that it can work, don't "feel" happy. Decisions of great and little consequence are made on this flimsy and untrustworthy basis every day. As a woman, I believe that God gave us strong emotions and greater sensitivity than men for a reason. While our emotions and our ability to "feel" things so deeply is a gift, it can also cause us to make poor decisions, to give up when we ought to press on and to doubt what we know is true. I know that I have on more than one occasion...

This Easter, I am reminded that Jesus died on the cross to set me free, not so that I could be subject to feelings of depression, anxiety or doubt. He died on the cross so that I could be free, so that I could be in Him, so that I could seek and follow His will for my life, even when I don't feel the joy that I ought to feel. Though I am seeking to stand on His Word, to discern and follow His will for my life, I recognize that it doesn't necessarily mean that I will always feel joy. That being content may be the most I can hope for somedays. Most importantly, I'm reminded that what I need to recognize and that which I record here for what I hope will be an encouragement to others and pray will be a reminder to myself, is that Jesus is with me whether I "feel" it or not. He promised to work all things together for good. He promised to be the same today, tomorrow and forever. He promised that His mercies would be new every morning. I can stand on those Truths even when I feel that I don't have the strength to stand on my own two legs. There is comfort in that whether I feel it as deeply as I should or wish I could or not.

As a Christian, I have the privilege of worshiping a Living Savior. This Easter Sunday, I hope it will be as powerful a reminder to you as it is to me that though on Good Friday Jesus died a painful, horrible death, On Easter Sunday and every day, He is alive. He is risen. He is risen indeed.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Purpose Driven

I'll be honest. Most days it feels like a struggle. The struggle does not merely concern juggling all of the different hats that I must wear, but surviving another day, making it through another week, counting down the days left before the weekend comes, and then trying to draw from every hour I'm given with my family a measure of joy, rest and peace that will give me strength to start the cycle over again on Monday morning. Life as a working mom is much harder than I ever thought that it would be, but at the week's end I am reminded of why I keep going. As I type this, Noah is coming at me with a broom, not at all happy that I have withdrawn to take some much needed "me time" on the other side of the room. Frustrating, yes, but even in these moments of frustration, I cannot help but laugh as I watch my son's personality grow at a pace much faster than his weight or height. Moments ago, my "tiny tyrant" was standing at my side shaking his finger at me saying "no no," imitating the instruction he had just received from his grandma and feeling the need to show me that he too can give instruction. He has quite a sense of humor, albeit a poor sense of timing...

When I was a stay-at-home mom, finishing up my final year of law school, searching for a job that never seemed to come, I often felt that my only purpose was to change diapers, to provide sustenance and to get my child to sleep. I've often said -- and still maintain -- that being a mom is the highest profession I could ever aspire to. It has been the privilege of my life. Yet, being a mom has certainly involved a measure of sacrifice. Largely, what I've missed most of all is being able to write. And I don't just mean the time. I also mean the energy, the focus, the clarity of thought, the ability to put my thoughts into words or finish something I start. Although I am optimistic that returning to this blog will allow me to return to my first love, I am aware that the demands of being a mom will often leave little time to follow-through. That is OK. It will have to be for now.

In honesty, I have sometimes felt jealous of Michael's ability to serve God by playing lead guitar as a member of the Creative Arts Ministry at our church. I have been searching for a ministry and a purpose of my own and have not had any success in finding my place or roll in which I could serve. Prior to becoming a mom, I always felt that blogging was my ministry and that there was no better forum in which I could use the tools that God has given me. Whether it can be that for me again is to be seen.

I came across a verse today that reminded me that God knows His plans for me, even as I struggle to define a purpose for myself. This verse (Psalm 138:8) is a promise I am standing on and is my prayer today, though my heart is overwhelmed and my mind is tired and the words do not come quickly or easily enough:

"The LORD will fulfill [His purpose] for me; Your love, O LORD, endures forever--do not abandon the works of Your hands."

Monday, February 01, 2010

A Similar Lesson on a MUCH Larger Scale

"I just want to tell you how much I love you and how much you've meant to all of us all these years." Those were the words that came to me today as I began what may have been the last conversation I will ever have with my grandmother Millie this side of Heaven.

I thank God that my long term memory is very sharp and that I can still so easily recall so many vivid images. Most of the photographs that document my childhood were destroyed in the various floods that filled the basement of my New York home time and time again. Very few were salvaged.The one to the left is nearly 3 decades old. It documents the birth of my younger sister, Michelle. And beside me, watching while I held my baby sister is my Grandma Millie (or Carmella, or Mimi, depending on who you ask). Other than this photo, the only other picture I have with her was taken while I was in first grade, at my sister Michelle's kindergarten graduation. When I looked at this picture today, it brought back so many memories of what it was like to be a child spending time with her... How she always wore stacks of gold bangle bracelets that clanked together every time she moved her hands. Her raspy Betty Davis voice and the catch phrases she fell back on time and time again while disciplining us for being bad. "I'm going to get out the board of education," was her favorite thing to say and she said it often as she searched for her ruler to smack us on the hands with. It never actually hurt. It only made us laugh, which only seemed to aggravate her further and caused her to make the face she made whenever we ran through the house with her stuffed black and white cat that we so frequently abused during our visits. We impersonated her so often in the way she said "disrespectful," that I can still hear her voice as though she was here with me right now. With that one word, she was able to speak volumes about her frustration regarding any given situation.

I can still picture her standing in the kitchen stirring sauce on the stove with one hand and smoking with the other. Frosting pound cake with heaping spoonfuls of fresh whipped cream before she'd freeze it, further removing the very little bit of taste it had. Coating bow tie pastries with fresh jelly and sugar while talking on the pale yellow phone with the long spiral cord twisted in knots. It's hard to believe I'll never have my grandmother's sauce again, always filled to the brim with braciole and sausage. It's been a lifetime since I've had it.

And How can I forget the endless hours I spent playing Black Jack and Red Dog with her and my sisters using the pennies she'd stored up in the heavy plastic containers she'd brought back from one of her many gambling trips to Atlantic City? Grandma taught me how to play cards; she taught me the primary colors and how to use them to make new ones; she taught me the names of the Great Lakes, which I sadly, twenty-something years later, don't remember.

These were the types of memories that came rushing back to me today as I spoke into the phone, wondering if she could hear me on the other end, hoping she could understand.

On Thursday, my Grandma Millie had a stroke. On Sunday, I was given the news that she had a DNR and that it was unlikely she would be alive for very long, as she'd refused a feeding tube. I called to talk to her today, knowing she would not be able to respond, and being unsure as to whether she would be able to understand anything I was saying. I wanted to talk to her about God and Heaven and tell her that I was praying for her -- and I did. I told her those things. But it was not long before the memories that came flooding back overwhelmed me so much that I had to share them with her. Memories of her endless supply of BINGO paper and all the games we played together on it when we weren't rattling the dice of our word game so loudly that my Grandpa would holler at us. Swinging from the bars of her staircase (pictured right) for so long that our palms were stained as black as our bare feet. How many times did we launch ourselves off between the bars and nearly knock over the dining room table covered from end to end in an array of boxes from Mei Mei's Chinese Restaurant?

I recalled how she always let me know how proud she was of me. How she told me every time we spoke that she was always watching Fox News expecting to see me one day everyday since I had moved to Washington. I told her I was sorry she never got that chance. Grandma was an avid Conservative who took great pride in knowing that I grew up to adopt the same views without any assistane from anyone else. She had helped me map out my education all the way up to getting my doctorate degree when I was just a little girl. I told her I was sorry that I hadn't graduated law school in time for her to see it. I told her I was sorry that she had to leave the world with Obama as our President, something that I know caused her great aggravation this past year. I told her that I couldn't imagine what life would be like without her and that I hoped she wasn't in any pain. What I told her was as disjointed in my speaking as it is now in my typing.

Mostly, I told her how much she meant to me. How she has been such a blessing to me for the 28 years I've been alive. I told her how happy I was that she lived to meet her greatgrandson (my sweet Noah) and how sorry I was that he wouldn't get the chance to know her better.

How many people can honestly say that they had the chance to tell someone they love just how much they meant to them before they died? I can say that now... though I could have went on for hours. After I got off the phone, I thought to myself that I could only hope to live 90 years and hear my child's child reveal her heart to me for one final time before I go...

For now, all I can do is wait and pray... pray that she feels peace and not fear, pray that in those quiet moments, she reaches out to God and pray that she will be re-uinited in Heaven with the two children she buried in her nearly 91 years life (my Uncle Michael, who I never met and my Uncle Sal, who passed away on my 16th birthday) and especially my grandfather, her "Nino." I hope he will be waiting for her too.

I wanted to share this with you today, not only to document what a wonderful life my grandmother had and what a light she was, or merely as a means of preserving the few memories I have retained, but as a reminder to all of you out there who have loved ones that don't fully know how much they are loved and who would really benefit from hearing it. I am fortunate to have gotten the chance to express that to my grandmother this afternoon...

Her life and her times are in His hands. I know how capable they are. Please keep her in your prayers...

Monday, November 23, 2009

One Last Pint Sized Lesson...

This morning my hamster passed away. For those of you who know me well and for those who have been following this blog long enough, you know that, to me, Beanie was not just a hamster. She was an important part of my life and my story with Michael -- and God used her on more than one occasion to teach me more about Himself. I blogged on this once before. And this morning, on our last morning together, God taught me one last pint-sized lesson through my little furry friend...

Beanie was my very first pet as an adult living away from home. I had always sworn I would never have any pets after having lost my dog Baby who was by my side for 11 years through thick and thin. Though Michael and I had discussed eventually getting a dog, I made it clear that I was not sure I could handle losing another pet. I had already lost so many... Leave it to me to pick a pet with a 3 year lifespan when I finally felt ready to try again...

When we got Beanie, Michael and I were living in a one bedroom apartment in Arlington. We joked that she was all we could fit into that narrow a space. While we lived there, I played with her all the time. I lavished her with everything a hamster could possibly have -- material things. Beanie saw us through three moves. The first, to a slightly larger apartment in Arlington, the second to South Riding and the third to Leesburg.

When we moved to South Riding, Beanie began acting very strangely. For whatever reason she began building a nest on the top floor of her "rat palace," which created a terrible mess on our floor everyday. Whether it was stress or whether she was just adapting to her new environment, Beanie was very comical to watch as she tried to make herself at home in our new home. In the beginning, I played with her all the time. I loved watching her zip across our faux hardwood floors in her little ball. But it was not long after our move that I found out I was pregnant and everything changed. I was advised to steer clear of her for the baby's sake and for the most part I did. I still talked to her but I stopped making an effort to show her how much she meant to me.

I was in the second half of my pregnancy when we moved to Leesburg and by this time, Beanie and I spent very little time together at all -- if any. Once the baby came, I rarely even walked by her cage because I was upstairs with Noah most of the day. For the last three months, I felt nothing but guilt that I had failed to give her more attention. I kept saying to myself that there would eventually be time, but I never seemed to find it. I tried to no avail to find her a new home - a happy home - where she would get the attention I couldn't give her. And then, just last week, I took some time and held her and promised her that I would make an effort to give her a better life, never knowing that I would not be given the opportunity or the time to make good on that promise.

This morning, I held her -- what little was left of her -- for over an hour and told her I was sorry and said goodbye, the way I never got to do with my dog Baby, whose death haunts me to this day and perhaps always will. As Beanie lay in my hands barely breathing, I kept praying for God to take her but He didn't.

In those sad moments, so much occurred to me that I feel compelled to share...

Now, I know that there are some of you reading this who might think it's silly that I should care so much for a rodent. That's fine. I also know there are many of you who are quite certain that animals don't have souls and don't go to heaven. I don't need to discuss that right now... I try to have hope. But in realizing that there is no certainty, it made me realize how fleeting life is and how my experience with Beanie is a lesson on so many levels.

First, I learned that we should take nothing for granted. We may not have another day to tell the people we love how much we love them or more importantly -- we may not have the opportunity to show them. Though I gave Beanie all the material things in the world, I missed out on so much of her life. And it got me thinking... How many of us have estranged relatives or friends that we have been neglecting to call or write or bother with? How many of us have allowed nothing other than our own sense of guilt to get in the way of restoring damaged relationships? I know I have...

Second, I learned that God's timing is God's timing and sometimes we have to accept it when it seems that He is not willing to honor our requests. Sometimes we need to be patient and accept (whether it's easy or not) that God is trying to show us something and that He rarely (if ever) stops until we've learned it. I seem to only learn the hard way... but I'd like to think I learn nonetheless...

Finally, and most importantly, I was reminded that little losses prepare us to handle bigger losses. In those quiet moments with Beanie, God instilled in me a sense of urgency to talk to those people in my life who don't know Him -- People whose loss would hit me a hundred times harder than the loss of any pet if I did not have confidence that I'd see them again in Heaven. You see... I have no way of knowing if I will ever see Baby or Beanie or Peeps or any of my dearly departed pets ever again. So when they passed, it hurts that much more... because goodbye really MAY be forever. But when it comes to human beings, we DO have certainty. The Bible makes it clear that those of us who call on the name of the Lord, who accept Jesus Christ as our One and Only Lord and Savior whose death was the price for our sin, who seek a real relationship with Him and ask Him to come into our hearts and make what was once old new-- we CAN know with utmost certainty that when we die we WILL be reunited with those who walked with God to go on before us.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16

When I was sitting there holding Beanie in my hands, I thought of those closest to me whose eternal fate I am just as uncertain of as I am hers. And I realized that I need to stop waiting for another day -- the way I waited to give Beanie the attention I should have months and months ago... And so I wrote a letter to one of those people. And I pray with all my heart that she is able to receive the message. I did not write this entry to document that - nor did I write it to merely remember my sweet Beanie Bear, whom I will never forget - I wrote it because I know that there are others out there that need reminding of what I learned today. And if it helps someone else even in the most minute way, then at least a blessing will come from my loss. Quite a legacy for one little hamster. I hope its a message that will be well received...

Rest in Peace Beanie. Never Forget You. HOPE I will see you again...

Friday, April 17, 2009

It's A.....

After months and months of waiting, guessing and speculating, M and I found out the gender of our baby last week!

We found out that we are being blessed with a baby ..........(CLICK HERE)............!!!!!!!!!!! :)

We could NOT be happier!

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Reminder of God's Provision in Uncertain Times

I posted this morning to my baby blog about the recent turn of events in my, Michael and Vanessa's lives. I hope this will be a testimony of God's power and mercy and provision. I know there are so many people in these uncertain times who are struggling as we have struggled and I hope this will be a reminder that God has everything in the palm of His hands, that He is intimately concerned with what is going on in our lives, and that He WILL provide... that no matter how grim things seem, God is in control and He is bigger than the problems of this world. We need only put our hope in Him.

(Read the post here).

Monday, February 23, 2009

The First Time That Ever We Saw Your Face... :)

This morning, M and I got an up-close look at our beautiful baby boy or girl. It is amazing how much he or she has grown in just a few short weeks. At our last ultrasound we could barely make out where the head ended and the body began but today we were able to see his or her face. I just keep reflecting on Psalm 139 and the wonder of knowing that we have a God who loves us and knows us -- and that even now he is "knitting" this precious child together.


1 O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.

2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.

3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.

4 Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.

5 You hem me in—behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, a]">[a] you are there.

9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,"

12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

17 How precious to b]">[b] me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!

18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake,
I am still with you.

19 If only you would slay the wicked, O God!
Away from me, you bloodthirsty men!

20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.

21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD,
and abhor those who rise up against you?

22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Unexpected Twist of Fate

On New Year’s Day, my husband, stepdaughter and I went to the movies to see Marley & Me. While I fully expected to see a movie documenting the hijinx of a naughty pup wreaking havoc on a young couple, I did not expect to watch a commentary on family, the futility of trying to plan out your life, and the changes that having children brings to a marriage. To be honest, I left the theater feeling a little shaken but very happy with the state of my life as it is.

After the movie, the three of us went out to coffee with our dear friends Dan and Melody, who are expecting their first baby this April. “I am just afraid to ruin what we have because I love our marriage the way it is,” I told Melody as she laughed and nodded her head. I shared with her the reservations the movie gave me about starting a family and, as always, she reassured me that God is in control and that all things work together for good. I agreed and laughed off my apprehensions, noting that it wasn’t anything I would need to worry about for a long time. I am in my third year of law school after all, I added, and M is still working on his engineering degree. And besides, I have endometriosis and there are no guarantees that we would ever be able to have any children of our own anyway. This settled my troubled mind and it was not long before this conversation (and the worries and concerns the movie had sparked in me) faded out of my memory.

You can imagine how ironic this conversation seems now, in retrospect, as I now know that at the time we were having this engaging conversation, I was already four and a half weeks pregnant. Here, I was discussing a movie, based on a true story, that clearly demonstrated that life happens in spite of all our planning and I was ignoring the central message I had clearly identified (and have written on before): “Man plans and God laughs.” I have to imagine that God was just sitting up in Heaven shaking his head and chuckling as He listened to me go on and on with my own ideas about what our life would and should be like. Apparently, He had bigger plans in store for us!

And so, M, V and I have spent the last few weeks adjusting to this unexpected news and preparing ourselves for all the things there really is no preparing for. It has given me a new perspective on so many things. Here, I thought I had it all figured out – but it was no sooner than I had come up with a master plan, that God shows me that His are always better.

I have been procrastinating for too long in blogging. I had been meaning to write an entry for some time now on the futility of fear, as I have finally conquered my fear of driving – something I could do with God’s help alone. In the past four months, I not only got my own driver’s license, but I got my own car (a gift from M for my 27th birthday in November).

Looking on all the drastic changes our lives have taken in the past year (moving from the city to the suburbs, from an apartment to a house, learning to drive and getting a license and a car and finding a Bible study group whose members have small children that are welcome to attend each Friday night), I can’t believe I didn’t see what God was preparing us for. And I guess, I still don’t know what the future has in store and I guess that’s the moral of the story (at least as I see it): We can only live day to day and seek God’s will in what we do and wait expectantly for God to show us where we need to be. That said, I am very happy to be where I am, in spite of the horrific morning (noon and night) sickness that at 7 weeks and a few days along, I have still not grown accustomed to!

For all the downsides of pregnancy I have been experiencing this early on, this morning changed my perspective yet again: when M and I not only saw our baby and his or her tiny beating heart, but we heard it! It was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. And while our baby looks like little more than a little blob, I can’t believe how much love I feel for something so very small. And for all the worries I have had concerning how early on my pregnancy is, I remind myself that God is in control.

“For you formed my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother's womb. I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. My soul knows that very well.
Psalm 139:13-14