Friday, March 26, 2010

How's Your Faith Working Out for You?

One of the ways that I work out my faith is to ask myself the same questions that the skeptics ask to see if I can answer them to my satisfaction. In my early adult years, the skeptics were asking, “Is there really a God?” I struggled with this question for decades. In fact, it was just eleven years ago that God settled the debate for me and made it possible for me to take the leap of faith in giving my life to him. Every generation has its own unique questions when it comes to faith and I don’t look at these questions as a challenge to my faith, but as a stepping stone to a deeper understanding of my faith, of my relationship with God and of who he is. Today’s skeptics want to know, “How’s that working for you?!”

So how is my faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior working out for me? To the casual observer, my life may seem to prove that this “faith in Christ” thing isn’t working out very well at all for me. I’m not rich, famous or successful and I’m reasonably sure I never will be. Even in my own local community I don’t stand out among the crowd. I’m the person you’d never see in a roomful of people and if you did, it would be to pity me because I don’t have the “loving husband, 2.5 kids, two cars in the driveway, three-bedroom home, vacation every year, fully-funded retirement plan” life we’ve all adopted as the ideal life. All I have is the memories of one dead child, two failed marriages, and more abuse than one person should ever know. So to the outsider, my faith may seem misplaced.

But for me, my life proves that faith in Christ is the only way to live. God has redeemed and continues to renew my life through faith. I have not only survived, but with God’s strength and support, have thrived in life. I may not have much in the way of material things, but I have enough. I have a place of my own to call home, I sleep in a bed every night, wake up to a hot shower every morning, food in my cupboards and a working car in the parking lot. I’m in good health, I have a job to go to and friends and family to share my life with. That’s more than most people have. My faith gives me security – the kind of security that only comes from knowing and loving and being loved by the great God of the Universe. There is nothing he can’t do and he will provide all I need. He is my strength, my courage and my inspiration. His will is the plan for my life and his Spirit who is my constant Companion guides, protects, and comforts me. God wants to shower me with his love and will not abandon me. There are no words to describe the intimacy that God and I enjoy and it is a relationship he wants to have with all people.

Okay. So my faith works for me, you say, but that doesn’t mean it works for everyone. After all, look at how the membership numbers of Christian religions are declining in the U.S and how about all the corruption in the leadership of the different Christian religions and TV Ministries? I can only say that faith should never be a matter of popularity, so deciding the validity of faith on the basis of who else and how many others believe is poor judgment. I guess I would have to ask if all of your friends were jumping off a bridge, would you? Then why decide your eternal fate on what everyone else is doing?

Corruption and sin can be found in every facet of life. As God’s people, we are supposed to be shining examples of integrity, selflessness, and generosity. We are supposed to be living our lives according to God’s will as we strive to be more Christ-like. So when we sin and our leaders are found to be as corrupt as non-Christians, what are the skeptics to think of our faith? The only answer I have is that no one is righteous (Romans 3:10). That’s why we need a Savior. When we believe, that doesn’t give us a magical pass to never sin again. It gives us a Savior who took our every judgment on himself and who forgives us every time we sin through his act of love for us on the cross. Everyone sins. Only Christians know the One who will take the consequences of our sin upon himself. Whether the skeptics admit it or not, Jesus died for their sins too. That’s what makes my faith work for everyone. May you be blessed in this coming week as we celebrate the Victory of the Death and Resurrection of the Savior of the World.
About the pictures:
Welcome Spring! Pittsburgh, PA (March 2010)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Letting Go and Moving On

I am once again faced with the anniversary of my son’s death next week. Consequently, I’ve been thinking a lot about him this week. I’ve watched the video of his preschool graduation and sifted through the pictures remembering all the wonderful and not-so-wonderful moments of my life with him. I’ve read through all the heartwarming letters that his sixth grade class wrote to me their first day back to school after his death. I’ve sorted through his old t-shirts that I saved. I was going to make a quilt with them some day. I’ve thought about all I lost when he died. He was my reason for living, for getting out of bed in the morning and facing a new day. His existence established my identity as mom and my life revolved around him. Sometimes the memories are so vivid in my mind I can almost feel him. I can almost convince myself that he is still part of my life and any moment I am going to hear his laugh.

The grief I’ve been experiencing this week has left me tender and confused. In my mind, he is gone and has been for a very long time. I like the new life I’ve begun to build without him. As difficult as it was, I let go of him long ago, or so I thought, and being in the midst of this grief has me off balance. Usually, when I think about the milestones we’ve missed, I remind myself that he is in God’s arms now. No matter how much I miss him, I love him too much to ever want to take that away from him. But this week has been all about what my heart misses, not what my mind knows. I realized this morning that I made the decision many years ago to let go of Bryan out of motherly love and duty but for my sake, my heart held on.

God has a whole future planned for me. One to prosper me. One of hope. (Jeremiah 29:11) And that plan doesn’t include Bryan. For my own sake, I need to let him go. I need to open my hands, let the grief fall from my grasp and reach out for the joy and the life God has planned for me. God knows my heart. He knows the longing I have to care for someone again. After all, he put it there in the first place. I have to trust that God has been waiting for me to get to this point, to offer him what I couldn’t hold onto anyway, to fill my life again with purpose and meaning. I have to trust in his love for me and believe that he wants to give me new joy and new life. And when I doubt that, I just need to look to Jesus, see the scars on his hands and his feet, to remind me not only of his love and his promise, but that both were fulfilled on that cross and revealed on Easter morning.
About the picture:
Deer Lake Park (August 2009)

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Man in My Life

Today, I want to tell you about the wonderful man in my life. For years, as with many great love stories, I wanted nothing to do with him. In fact, I hated him. He was an overly critical, self-absorbed, distant man who had me convinced that I was worthless and invisible. But over the last few years, I have had the privilege of watching God transform him into the loving, caring, protective father I always dreamed I would have. Yes, that’s right. The man in my life is my dad and I love him dearly. God has brought healing to our relationship and everyday I thank him for the man who is my father.

This week, we shared a very tender moment – one of many to come, I believe. His eyes focused on mine and with gentleness and love he said to me “I am committed to taking care of you. Don’t hesitate to come to me when you need anything. I love you. You’re my ‘little girl’ and I’m proud of you.” I felt wholly and dearly loved by this man in that moment – safe and protected. I sat there in silence not wanting to say anything for fear of chasing the moment away. How blessed I am that he is my daddy!

Later that night, as I was thanking God for such a wonderful gift, it occurred to me that this is how God feels about me. Jesus encouraged his followers to call God “Abba” which translate in English to Daddy. It’s a term of love, respect and familiarity. God is my Heavenly Daddy. He is the Almighty Creator of all there is. He is so much more than me and his holiness is awe-inspiring. His power is limitless. I am less than a bug compared to him and yet this awesome God loves me so much that he wants to be my Daddy! He is committed to taking care of me and wants me to come to him immediately with all my needs. He loves me. I am his little girl and he is proud of me. What is even more amazing is that I don’t really deserve his love but he willingly gives it to me anyway.

How great is our God that in a tender moment between father and daughter, he gave me a shining representation of the love and care he has for me. I have a Heavenly Father who loves me more than I can understand and an earthly father whose love is like a hug from God.
About the picture:
Dad - December 2009

Friday, March 5, 2010

Be Strong. Be Courageous. Be Vulnerable!

I’ve been going through a difficult time recently and have spent much of my prayer time begging God for strength and comfort to make it through. In the last couple of weeks, he has answered my plea and blessed me with an abundance of strength and comfort, but it came at a cost.

I am an introverted and private person who doesn’t feel comfortable burdening others with my pain and troubles. I would rather be the person who is there to listen to them, assist and comfort them, to reach out in God’s love to them than be the object of that kind of attention. After all, Christ did tell us to love God with all we are and love our neighbor as ourselves and Paul tells us in Romans 12:10 to be devoted to one another in brotherly love and honor others above ourselves. Wouldn’t it be selfish and unchristian of me to force those I love to bear my pain? To put myself and my problems above theirs?

That’s what I told myself anyway. The truth is that my own pride and fear built a wall around my suffering. I didn’t want to let others in because then they would know I was weak and needy. I convinced myself that it would be wrong of me and completely unfair to them to burden them with my pain. So I put on a smile and patted myself on the back for my unselfish, silent suffering.

God calls us to be in relationship with each other. Philippians 2:1-2 (the Message) says, “If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends.” I love that phrase – deep-spirited friends. This is not a one-sided relationship. This kind of relationship is one of give and take. Two people connecting and reciprocating with each other. I realized this week that if I am really to be a deep-spirited friend with those I call my friends then I need to allow myself to be transparent and vulnerable with them. I need to honor them by letting them be Christ for me, to reach out to me, to comfort and support me in my time of need.

Here’s the catch – being vulnerable is scary. What if they are not the friends I took them to be? What if they take my vulnerability and expose it to the world? Put me down for it? Abandon me in my time of need? There was no way to tell until I opened myself up to them if I’d opened myself up to hurt or healing? I had to have faith that God would carry me through whatever their response. I had to be strong and have courage to reveal my vulnerability.

God has blessed me incredibly this week in my first hesitant steps of vulnerability. The love, support and comfort I have received from my friends has been indescribably powerful. I am experiencing a closeness with them that I’ve never known before and I am grateful to God for the deep-spirited love I now share with them.

Be strong. Be courageous. Be vulnerable. Be deep-spirit friends in Christ.

About the pictures:
Phipps Conservatory (April 2009)