The other day, I was looking a pregnant friend of mine, and it hit me how completely stunning she has become as her pregnancy has progressed. I mean, she is a very pretty lady anyway, but something about the light catching her glowing face from a nearby window and that perfectly round belly just made her so seem so radiant and bountiful. There is a certain allure to an expectant woman that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it's those big bellies, a quality not typically coveted. They just seem to beg to be touched. If you have ever been pregnant, you know what I'm talking about. Complete strangers will walk up to you in a grocery store and give it a rub or pat. It's totally awkward, but I get it. They just draw you in. I'm sure my friend had no idea how beautiful she looked in that moment. In fact, with only 2 months left, I'm sure she felt quite the opposite because when it comes to pregnancy, there are two ends to the spectrum.
There is the positive end: glowing skin, thick luscious hair, nails that grow long and strong, cute baby bumps, gender reveals, those first kicks, the excitement, the expectancy, the feeling of life growing inside of you. It’s truly magical. Then there is the dark side: always feeling tired, not being able to sleep, the vomiting, the food aversions, the swollen ankles, the heartburn, the vomiting, the general discomfort, the anxiety, the hormone induced emotional breakdowns, the VOMITING, the inability to cool down (especially in the Texas heat), the stretch marks, the impatience, the get-this-thing-out-of-me! My pregnancies hovered more toward the negative end with flashes of positives. I was so sick for so long that it was hard to acknowledge the miraculous event that was taking place.
I have heard some women say that they loved everything about being pregnant, and I think that is just grand…and a little crazy. But maybe they truly had a unicorn pregnancy with none of the adverse side effects, and I think that is wonderful…and I hate them a little bit. Not really, but I think it is safe to say that most women will run the gamut of the spectrum during the 9 months and will tend to hang out in the negative end especially in the beginning…and the end.
We bear it though, some of us several times, because the end justifies the means. Because what you get is so much greater than what you endure. When you hold that baby in your arms, all the memories of nausea and discomfort are barely distinguishable.
Last week was a rough week, not in the tumultuous active kind of way. It was the kind of stale discomfort that comes in waiting for something. In many ways, I feel like a pregnant woman, expectant of the next phase of my life, one with more action and visible productivity. On the outside it seems like not much is happening except for maybe slowly getting a little "bigger". Because like a pregnant lady, I'm ravenous lately. I keep consuming things hoping to feel full, only to find myself starving a few hours later. There are things growing inside of me that I know must fully develop, and this is all part of the process, but growth can be painful, and I keep looking down at my growing belly, thinking how much more can this skin stretch? And this expansion and tension is exhausting. From the outside, I may appear to be gleaming and lustrous, but I'm pretty sure it's just the sweat from the hard work of growing something. Like in pregnant women, most of that hard work takes place inside the belly and out of our view.
I'm trying to be patient and look at things with perspective. I'm trying to be that lady that loves being pregnant, that sees the miracle, the wonder, and the splendor of producing a living thing, but I'm struggling. I'm exhausted, irritable, and anxious. So, I just do the basic things I know I need to do. I keep taking my vitamins and putting nutrients in that are essential for growth. I try to avoid the things that can be harmful and stunt progression. I take things day-by-day. I constantly take deep breaths. I wait. I realize that something is being made, and these things require time and can't be rushed. In a fetus, one of the last things to develop is the lungs, a vital organ. Newborns need to breathe and even just a few weeks can make a big difference. So, I'm trying to let this "baby" incubate until it's healthy, pink, and chubby, no matter how cumbersome it feels to me.
I know it will be worth it. I keep imagining what it may look like, although I'm sure it will be nothing like I imagine. As expectant parents, we can get fixated on the birth, the meeting, but we fail to gauge the new responsibilities that come with that arrival. I'm trying to take this into account and prepare myself as much as possible. I'm trying to appreciate this season of becoming, to find comfort in its purpose, and make the most of its timing. I'm trying really hard to "bear fruit with patience" knowing that one day, maybe sooner than I think, I will enjoy its sweetness.
(Disclaimer: Let's just be clear. This post was highly metaphorical. I am NOT pregnant. Again, NOT pregnant! )
Hebrews 10:36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what is promised.
Luke 8:15 As for that in good soil, they are those who, in hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
Since I was about five, my family has taken summer vacations to the Emerald Coast of Florida. I remember getting ready to leave on our very first trip, and my mom telling me about a cute bathing suit she had seen for me. Clothes have always excited me, and I knew I had to have it! Looking back, I'm sure she regretted telling me about it because I bugged her about it so much that I eventually made her draw me a picture of it, and I clutched that sketch in my hands until that pink and green two-piece appeared in my packed suitcase. There is a photo of my older brother Justin and I on the beach, and I am sporting that lovely little bathing suit. And there are decades of other family memories made on those very shores.
Last year, I continued family tradition and introduced Jett to Florida. I believe that a love for the ocean is hereditary because he was as thrilled as his mama about the beach. I have pictures of him soaking up the warmth of the sun and visually consuming the vastness of the sea. He sat for the longest time in the white sand peering out at the ocean and letting the crystal clear water wash over his toes. He loved every second of it! And of course, we built sand castles. Jett is a very industrious toddler, so once I showed him how to fill the buckets and set them upright, he wanted to make them by himself.
His first attempts failed, but once he got the concept of packing the sand, they started to take shape. As I watched him build, I noticed he was knocking them down, some as soon as he removed the molds. At first, I chalked it up to the destructive nature of little boys and the excitement that it brings them, but as I watched closer, I realized something else; he was knocking them down because they weren't perfect. Jett has a need for autonomy, even at such a young age. He wants to be able to not only do something on his own, but he wants to do it well. He has very little patience with himself when he doesn't immediately master a skill with perfection. I believe that this quality, appropriately harnessed, will serve him well in his future, but I also see some potential risks.
This reminded me of myself and how I tend to do the very same thing. If something I do, whether accomplished or attempted, is not impeccable on my first try, I immediately knock it down by diminishing it's value.
I've been thinking about these sand castles over the past few weeks: tiny particles of stone that alone aren't really much of anything, but with a little water and a mold, they can be constructed into some pretty awesome structures!
The individual grains of sand remind me of our unique talents, characteristics, and skills. One of my favorite college classes was personality psychology. I already had a divested interest in the topic because my college boyfriend was one of the most beautifully peculiar beings I have ever met. To say we were opposites would be the understatement of the century, and if they say men are from Mars, then he was from an uncharted planet that we have yet to discover. I sought to understand him in the way that you try to understand nuclear physics or Greek etymology, feeling like true comprehension was just out of reach. Certain theories and personality types seemed to fit about as well as a cheap suit; you just can't define people like that, and I'm glad because their total essence is much more stunning.
He was the epitome of mad scientist brilliant, exuding wisdom and theories of theology and science nonchalantly over coffee, like he was talking about the weather. He was completely socially awkward, studied for enjoyment, and valued material things about as much as Mother Teresa. He was my mirror opposite in all of these ways and more, and that completely intrigued me. Being a fairly superficial teen myself, he opened my eyes to concepts I had never even conceived as possibilities, and challenged me to think deeply and often. He was also a talented musician and artist and found beauty in the most obscure places. His presence in my life birthed a boundless appreciation for human individuality, and by seeking to understand our differences, he led me to a path of self-discovery, and for that I'm grateful. Thanks Jake.
I have a pretty good hold on who I am these days. I know what I believe, my strengths, my weaknesses, and my goals. I have a lot of experiences under my belt and can pull knowledge from lessons learned. The question I ask myself now, as I have many times before, is how do I take what I have and make a difference in my world and for my God? I've obsessed over my purpose for years. It is one thing to know what you bring to the table but quite another to practically apply your gifts and talents on a daily basis. I think I wasted a lot of time complicating things and second guessing my strengths. Conceptually, I have been very inspired to use my talents as a ministry, but I always found myself tangled in logistics: is that even a ministry? How will that skill of mine really help someone on a deep level?
The answer came to me a few weeks ago when I was cleaning out my car. It doesn't seem to matter how often I do this because with small children comes lots of stuff, and the next day it looks like tiny squatters have moved back in. I digress. I do find the strangest items in my car though, and this day I found a small fortune cookie paper of an origin that I have no recollection. It said, "Sometimes the simplest answer is to act".
This struck me. I don't always seek infinite wisdom from fortune cookies, but on this day it fit. I realized that it is not my job to try to figure out all of the "whys" of how my talents may impact someone else. It's just my job to exercise them. For years, I have tossed around the notion of blogging. And many, many times I squashed the idea because what difference would my words make? What if it wasn't good? What if no one read it? The idea never left me though. Sometimes, it haunted me. So last month, after wrestling with the notion forever, I just decided to act.
I've always been attracted to and moved by storytelling. I’ve been crafting my own story for 31 years, and no one else can tell it like I can. I’ve realized that it's not my job to control where the stories land. It’s just my job to put it out there. When I stopped the over-analyzing, it took a tremendous amount of pressure off of me. Why has it taken me so long to arrive here? I think of this saying that I heard years ago. “Over analysis leads to paralysis.” It’s catchy and so true. We have all done it at some point; we have thought about something so much that our thoughts impeded our actions.
I get it though. Embracing and sharing our talents leaves us in a vulnerable, uncomfortable position, and often, we just want to find a reason or excuse that will let us off the hook. One way we do this is by depreciating. We discount our abilities, and we discount ourselves. We start buying into this mythical ideology and talking ourselves out of our purpose.
Myth: The things that I am good at are not very “spiritual”.
I grew up in a denomination where the highest and most spiritual calling one could receive came with the title of minister: pastor, evangelist, missionary. I don't believe this directly stated, but it was strongly implied. Being a sensitive and enthusiastic young person, I remember wondering where this left me. For one thing, these positions were very dominantly male occupied. God must have made me the wrong sex because the willingness in my heart certainly didn’t match up with my anatomical makeup. And secondly, I remember it making me very angry when it was suggested that being the wife of one of these was my best chance of being greatly used by God. This felt ill-intentioned and wrong like I was being encouraged to marry for money or fame. I did not like it at all! Surely, this isn’t how the system was supposed to work. It seemed so archaic and ripe with gender inequality.
Now, I look at my “spiritual calling” with more perspective and see that the framework for these ideas were flawed. I have read that my greatest commission is to love people, and that takes on many different forms. Love can be instructional like what a pastor does on Sunday or what a mother does to a child when teaching them how to make their way through this world. Love can be inclusive and give people a place to belong like a Life Group built on common interests or a youth group that makes an unconnected teenager feel like he/she is a part of something bigger. Love can be generous in giving people words of hope in a seemingly desolate situation or by giving a needy family money during a time of crisis or despair.
I recently heard someone say that the most common way that God reveals his presence is through other people. Having felt his presence during a worship service or prayer, I had to think about this for a bit. Was this really true? So, again I started analyzing, and I found myself trying to recount events where I had a spiritual experience through a physical interaction. And then I looked in the Bible, and once again my perspective changed.
One fallacy that I think we constantly buy into as Christians is that there is a barrier between the physical and spiritual worlds. If there is a separation, it’s very thin: diaphanous and sheer. I think of it like a flimsy tissue paper or fine, porous gauze, where the two spheres penetrate the other with relative ease. Some of the most miraculous, supernatural events that occurred in the Bible surrounded the most mundane and conventional daily happenings like eating. My new favorite author, Shauna Niequist, says so eloquently, "Sometimes the most spiritual things we do are the most physical, the most tactile. Feeding people is one of those things, whether we're helping feed hungry people or feeding the hunger in each one of us".
I can relate to this because when I was going through my dark time, some of the most spiritual things for me were receiving sound legal advice from a friend that had been there, having someone sit beside me in a new church where I knew very few people, hugs, a meal purchased by a friend and the conversation that followed, and having someone watch my boys so I could finally get a little sleep. I believe that these are all ways that God used people to act out his divine love for me. I believe that all of these acts of love opened my eyes even more to a God that has always been there. I think that is why loving people is such a weighty spiritual calling that we should all heed with reverence. When we do it wholeheartedly, we are doing more than being responsible Christians. We are guiding people to the feet of Jesus and to a Love that transforms lives and mends brokenness.
I think we need to stop analyzing and defining, and start acting! If you are really good at something, and it makes you feel alive, then that is probably your calling. My grandmother is the most amazing cook, and all of my life, she has weekly brought our family and friends together for meals and conversations and community. She has blessed thousands with her gift. That is her ministry. My aunt is the most social and thoughtful person I know in that she never misses a baby shower, wedding, graduation, or birthday party. She makes people feel special by simply giving them her time. You can't tell me that doesn't make a difference in their lives. Maybe those things don’t seem overtly “spiritual” to you, but my grandmother is feeding more than bellies and my aunt is showing up for more than just a party.
Myth: How can I help others when I can barely help myself?
Another thing we do is believe that we aren't “good” enough to help other people. We let our past or current circumstances define our worthiness, and we let our inadequacies heap shame upon us. Shame stifles us in so many capacities, and then we find ourselves doing nothing.
One fact that I find great comfort in is that God seems to be fond of imperfect, dysfunctional people. He has a heart for strays and mutts like me. Some of the most powerfully used were also the most deeply flawed. No matter how different we all are, the one thing we all have in common is that we all have cracks, dents, and bruises. In this aspect, it is our common weaknesses should unite us, not separate us.
This kind of makes me laugh now, but when I first started going to counselling at the beginning of my divorce, I was talking to my therapist about how to deal with all that had happened and sorting out all of my…stuff. With tear filled eyes and a shaky voice, I asked, "Am I broken?" With a smile, he matter-of-factly stated, "We are all broken." Oddly this made me feel much better, and it even gave me comfort that he (the man I was paying to “fix” me) included himself right up in there. It put a hope inside of me that you don’t have to be perfect to have purpose.
It makes me think that Christine Caine is really on to something when she said, "People admire your strength, but they relate to your weakness." I truly believe that when we let God put the pieces back together, he constructs something more exquisite than we could have fathomed. In him, I believe that brokenness is made beautiful, that healing comes from pain, and that we can find strength in our weaknesses. He is really creative like that!
More accurately, he is the CREATOR. He made us, and we kind of resemble him, so I think we were born to make things. He made everyone creative. Whether you make beautiful music or art that speaks to people's souls, make plans and schedules that keep things flowing smoothly, make friends anywhere you go, or make connections that bring chaos to order, please make something! It is what you were made for: the reason you're here.
Let's stop the discounting. Let's stop knocking down our sand castles before they even get built because we’re equating their value on a flawed scale. Each of our talents, attributes, and skills are vitally integral to this construction. Alone we may just been tiny grains of sand, but together we are a great structure because you see, we aren't just building castles in the sand. We are building eternal and heavenly kingdoms!
Envision and establish,
Our culture loves new: new cars, new houses, new shoes, new relationships. We're kind of obsessed with newness, but nothing tops the freshness of a newborn baby. Before they even get here, we go nuts buying new things, painting the walls new colors, learning new skills to cope with the newness of their existence, and even take on new titles and roles...mommy, daddy, grandma. Then they arrive. Friends and family line the halls anxiously waiting to get a glimpse of this tiny new human. Those much anticipated first pictures flood the feeds of our social media outlets. That patented baby smell that emits from the top of their little heads intoxicates all of its holders. It's a crazy, wonderful time.
Jett, my oldest, had more of a crazy than wonderful entrance into the world. I never thought I would have children simply because I knew that you had to get an IV when you went into the hospital to have the baby, and there was no way I was going to let such a heinous thing happen to my veins. Nope. Up until this point in my life, the most invasive medical procedure I had was blood being drawn, in which I cried so hysterically that they had to call my mother from the waiting room to come calm me. Once they got the needle in my arm and finished, I began to, again, cry hysterically. Mom asked me what was the matter. I told her it hadn't hurt like I thought it would, and now I just felt stupid. The nurse laughed really hard. But cut me some slack. I was really young...only about 23.
So, my pregnancy was really like a 9 month pep talk that I gave myself. "You can do this!" By "this", I just meant the delivery. I copiously educated myself on all the ends and outs of the child birthing process, I watched documentaries (do not recommend this), found the best doctor, and accepted the fact that it was happening whether I liked it or not. I was feeling as ok-ish as I could until the day before. Jett was over a week late, and I was being induced the next morning. I had a meltdown. As Josh and my little dog, Bitty, tried to comfort me, they soon realized they were in way over their heads and called in the big gun: Mom.
I struggled for breath as I tried to articulate my feelings, but all I could really get out was that I felt like something terrible was going to happen. And I did. It was more than the anxious jitters I had been having all along. This was a deep, looming sense of danger and panic. Mom reasoned that births were natural events that happened everyday, the doctors were very capable, and that if anything did happen to go wrong, which it probably wouldn't, that we would already be in a hospital. All of these were perfectly sound statements that I eventually accepted as truths and went to bed.
Monday, November 27, 2012. 6:30 a.m. Things were happening quickly and right on schedule. I was admitted, put in my room, hooked up to the monitors, and I even survived the IV installation (miracles happen people). The nurses couldn't believe I was an induction because I have having strong, regular contractions. The doctor came in around 7:15 to check me. I was not dilating. He decided to break my water. This was excruciating and surprisingly so because I had read that most people don't feel it.
Disclaimer: Ok...if you are squeamish or pregnant, this next part is a little graphic and scary, but my doctor told me afterwards that the chance of this happening to another woman were about 1 in a million. He had never seen anything like it in his 15 years of practice and probably would never see it again. I just wanted to warn you because I am not trying to a to a pregnant woman's anxiety.
You decided to continue. Brave soul. So, the doctor told me that I would probably feel some fluid, and a few minutes after he had left the room, I felt a forceful gush. I peeked under the covers, halfway expecting to see the baby there because that was about the intensity of it. Instead to my horror, all I saw was red. I'm not just talking about a few drops. This was more blood than I had ever seen that did not come from a TV screen. I freaked out, and Mom ran to the get a nurse. She tried to calm me, but her eyes just spoke more terror into my heart. They caught the doctor who was not even out of the building yet, and within minutes they were rolling me down the hall for an EMERGENCY C-section. Up until this moment, this was my worst fear, being cut open.
The next moments were a blur of machines and tons of doctors and nurses pulling on me in every direction. Because of the amount of blood I was losing, there was no time for any of my family to scrub in and be with me. There were people all around me, but I felt terrified and alone. I remember being very cold, exposed, and scared out of mind for my baby and myself. I doubt that I will ever again feel as vulnerable as I did in those distressful minutes. Things were happening all around me and far beyond my control. Time was quickly passing and standing still simultaneously. Then it all went dark..quiet.
Recovery: I remember starting to come out of the fog. I remember my mom being in recovery trying to show me a picture of Jett on her phone and telling me that he weighted 10 lbs 2 oz. (in front of the very doctor that told me that he estimated he was about 7 lbs.) Little bit off there buddy. I think I made a joke. Jett had to be taken to the NICU because he had aspirated meconium. He would be fine, but they needed to put him on oxygen.
The next thing I remember was that they were about to take me to my room, and I was talking to the nurses as they rolled me through the halls and onto the elevator. In the middle of speaking, I noticed I began to very loudly and uncontrollably groan. My body went stiff like I was paralyzed by shooting pains pulsing through my limbs. My brain could hear my voice, but it was as if the two had become disconnected from each other. I couldn't make my screams stop. I could hear the nurse saying, "Andrea, can you hear me? Andrea, what's going on?" Yes, I could hear him, but I had no idea what was happening to me. As the elevator doors opened, my grandmother heard me and says they quickly closed the doors, and I wouldn't return for hours. I passed out shortly after the screams.
The next thing I knew, I was waking up in my room heavily sedated and on all kinds of drugs. I'm not sure who all was there, but I told my mom that I could not see. She said, "What do you mean you can't see?" I said, "Are my eyes open?" When she confirmed that they were, I said, "Then I must be blind because I can't see anything." I wasn't crying or hysterical. I said this very matter-of-factly, without any emotion. If you have learned anything about me through this, you could see how very confusing this was to my mother. Josh later told me that I was like a catatonic human. I had no personality, no emotion. I wasn't me.
The doctors were puzzled. For the next 2 days, they would run every imaginable test on me to see what could be causing my blindness. Here is the strange thing about not being able to see. People ask me if it was black. It wasn't. It was just nothingness, more like white than black. And while I could not see one single thing, I could tell who was in the room. It's like I could sense it, but not through sight. I ask my grandmother if my eyes darted around like blind peoples' do. She said that they didn't. I find this interesting.
So, here is the breakdown of how my body broke down. The average person has about 10 pints of blood in their body. My extensive blood loss would be considered a class IV hemorrhage. This means that I lost more than 40% of my blood. They had to give me 5-6 pints via transfusion. When this amount of blood is lost, the body goes into something called hypovolemic shock. Your blood pressure drops and your heart rate increases. The body is trying desperately to get oxygen to your organs. When there isn't enough, those organ start shutting down. The kidneys and the brain are the first to go. A CT scan would reveal some spots on my occipital lobe, the part of the brain that controls vision. Brain damage. Even typing it feels terrible, but that's what happened. I was told it is very similar to what happens to victims of stroke, but with some differences.
At this point I really began to wonder if I would ever be able to look at my baby boy or anything for that matter. Was I really blind? It was gradual, but slowly my vision (and my personality) began to come back to me. The next few days were really trippy. When I would look at people, it would seem that their faces were sliding off at times. I asked an ultra sound tech about the clear plastic mask she was wearing as an obvious precaution. Yeah, she wasn't wearing a mask. As I would try to read, it seemed like the letters were backwards, so I would trace the letters with my fingers to prove to my brain that they weren't. I got to "see" Jett for the first time late Wednesday night. My emotions were back, and even though when I looked at his face, all I could see was a white orb of light, I still thought he was beautiful! Each day I got better and stronger. Nurses that had seen me in my previous state were astonished at my recovery.
Before I left the hospital, my neurologist came to see me (again). For me, it was the first time because I was way out of it in our first introduction. We looked at my brain damage on the scans again and talked about neuroplasticity. A few years before I had read a book about it (for fun because I'm a nerd. You know this by now.) Basically, its the idea that the brain is changeable or "plastic". When part of the brain is damaged, it can sometimes remap it functions to different parts of the brain. The most common example refers to how this happens in stroke patients. When a stroke victim loses the ability to speak or to move part of their body, the brain can transfer those functions to be accomplished through another part of the brain. This usually happens with a lot of therapy and repetition. One of the coolest accounts that I read was a stroke patient that lost his entire ability to speak...English. This patient was bilingual though, and because we use a different part of the brain to learn a new language, the patient could still speak in their second language. It was once thought (and not too long ago) that we had a finite amount of brain cells, and they did not regenerate. It was also believed that there were limitations to the pathways/connections the brain makes. Essentially, this is talking about that old adage, "You can't teach and old dog new tricks". Turns out, this is scientifically false. According to studies and current technology, the brain is capable of change even into old age. "Even the elderly are capable of creating measurable changes in brain organization. These changes are not always easy but can happen through concerted focus on a defect area."
So, what does all this mean? For me, I believe that remapping that occurred in my occipital lobe that led to restoration of my sight was divinely orchestrated, as not one of the many physicians that tested and poked on me could provide a precise explantion in which it happened. I had a army of prayer warriors interceding on my behalf, and I have witnessed healing enough to recognize it. For that, I am eternally grateful to Jesus Christ.
But, what astounds and stuns me is his ability to make ALL THINGS NEW! Brain plasticity is so amazing to me because it is not about bringing the old damaged parts back to life. It is about creating something new! A new way to do things! I can (very literally) say that I once was blind, but now I see, but I'm not seeing the same way I saw before. My mind has been renewed. New pathways were formed that now enable my vision. And just as this is possible in my physical body, it is possible in my spirit!
It's possible in yours too. Change is achievable. I recently read that the same brain function that keeps us locked in to our bad habits, slumps, addictions can also be the means by which new good, healthy habits are formed. Think of our repetitive actions/thoughts like building a trench. The constant connection between the neurons engrains a path that eventually makes the action seem like second nature. Think of something you learned recently and how much you had to think about it when you were learning, but now you can do it with your eyes closed. That's how the brain works for the good and the bad.
I am so sick of hearing that people can't change, that situations won't change, that addictions can't be broken, and that hearts and bodies can't be healed. Lies. I don't believe that for a moment. I know the opposite to be true. Some of us just need to shift our focus and build new trenches. Trenches and pathways that lead us to a better place. That place is Jesus: the resurrection and the life, the one who makes beauty from ashes, and something from nothing! He doesn't just patch up the old broken parts of us. He makes pretty things, all bright and shiny like newborn babies!
Romans 12: 1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Ephesians 4: 20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Me, trying really hard to see him. :)
There is a part of me that is very carefree, that doesn't mind winging it, that's ok with the mystery of unanswered questions. This part of my persona is totally fine with relying on my intuition, gut feelings, and faith to address lingering issues. For example, it has never been a huge struggle for me to accept the existence of God. I know very scientific types that have a hard time with this because they need to understand all of it: the hows and whys. For me, I prefer the perplexity of the deity. If I could wrap my little mind all the way around his being, then I think it would diminish the awesomeness of it. I love that he is the beginning and the the end, that he has always existed, that he knows all things, and in him all things hold together. I love to try to think about those things, and I love that they are beyond my comprehension. I love that there is a God whose very existence completely blows my mind!
Conversely, there are times I ask questions and seek answers. In this kind of seeking, a complete paradox in my personality emerges: I find myself very analytical, a perfectionist, and in need of concrete, tangible proof. Sometimes I just want it all spelled out for me in plain letters, numbered in steps 1, 2, and 3. At times, God has humored my "need" by quite literally spelling it out, usually in the form of the word, a post, a book, or website that came across my path. But I think that most of the time, what he really wants is for us to feel our way out through our faith. I'm pretty sure of it actually. When I think back to those Israelites wandering in the desert, I think that there is more that I can learn. I think that perhaps the best tool for navigating the wilderness is faith.
Don't Choose Certainty Over Faith
So, God did all kinds of crazy miracles for the Children of Israel when leading them out of Egypt. For one thing, he parted the Red Sea and let them escape Pharaoh's army. Then he sent the waves crashing down on their enemies and annihilated them. That's pretty awesome! Then he sustained them by sending their breakfast down from heaven everyday for 40 years...equally awesome! He protected them from their enemies and made their water drinkable, even once by making it come out of a rock. He did all of this while manifesting himself to them both day and night through a cloud and a pillar of fire. So why did they continually doubt?
They lacked faith. They did believe in God, but they just didn't believe he would do what he promised...lead them into a land that they couldn't even imagine. There was even a time that they longed to go back into slavery in Egypt because at least they had better food there. They knew what Egypt was like, and even though it wasn't desirable, they preferred it over the ambiguity of the journey.
It's easy for me to be critical of those kids when I read their story from a third person perspective, but if I am really honest, I'm not much better. I know that God exists, and better than that, I've felt the nearness of his presence and seen his hands at work in my life. God is with me, of that I am certain. But when he asks to me to follow him to my future or trust him with something I'm not equipped to navigate alone, its another story because I have this undeniable need for certainty. Shauna Niequist describes faith in Bittersweet by saying:
"I believe that faith is less like following a GPS through a precise grid of city blocks and more like being out at sea: a tricky journey, nonlinear and winding, the wind kicking up and then stalling out."
I like my GPS. I like that I can zoom out and see the whole route neatly highlighted on the map with turn-by-turn directions the whole way. The sea or the wilderness is unpredictable, and I don't like surprises.
I used to think that faith meant that if you believed something really hard, it would happen. If it didn't happen, you must not be believing it hard enough, and there must have been some doubt that crept in. I don't always think that is the case though. The opposite of faith is not doubt, it's certainty.
For the most part, we would all rather be certain. I read this study in which participants would rather definitely receive a shock now, than maybe receive one later. The actual shock is less stressful than wondering if/when a shock will come. There is something that social scientists call "irreducible uncertainty" and it has been directly linked with high levels of stress and anxiety. When faced with an unpredictable circumstance, the brain releases hormones, namely dopamine. This process is foundation of the fight or flight response. Marc Lewis, neuroscientist and addiction expert explains:
"The dopamine system has become famous because of its role in addiction. We know that addicts have a hard time resisting temptation because drug-related cues send dopamine geysering up to the striatum, a deep (and relatively primitive) brain structure often labelled the “reward centre”. But the striatum isn’t just about reward. More accurately, it’s an action centre. It not only propels behaviour toward positive outcomes like getting high; it also propels behaviour away from negative outcomes – punishments and aversive consequences. That geyser of dopamine activates the striatum just as much whether good news or bad news is coming your way... the striatum has developed an additional talent. It not only anticipates good and bad consequences; it also performs a unique mathematical feat: it predicts the odds of those consequences. And it chimes most loudly, most urgently, when those odds approach 50%."
I am kind of a neuroscience nerd, but I find it so interesting that our physical bodies are hardwired to so vehemently reject uncertainty and thus work against the nature of faith. But if you have taken the first step of faith towards salvation, then you know that we are to take on a new nature, a spiritual one. Like the Children of Israel, I totally trusted that God would save me, but then why is it so hard to believe in the plan, the stuff that happens after the saving, the keeping? Why is it so hard to believe in things that are out of my control like healing? I don't know about you, but when I can't see my next steps, my dopamine levels start to rise, along with my anxiety. There have even been times I've said, "Just give me the "shock" of "Egypt" now. I can't take the uncertainty! At least I know what that feels like." So, to avoid uneasiness, we sacrifice our dreams for slavery by choosing what is certain. We settle.
I can tell you from experience, while having faith during uncertainty is a little uncomfortable, settling for less than your promise is certainly the most miserable place on earth. I've learned that surviving will never take the place of living. The ok things will never be a substitute for the very best things. Here are a few things that have helped me with this whole faith thing, steps if you will, that are helping me navigate the wilderness to my land of milk and honey:
1. Close your eyes!
Number one rule of faith: stop looking only at your circumstance. Faith is all about what we don't see, the assurance of it! Peter walked on the water with Jesus, and only started to sink when he started looking at the wind instead of the Creator of the wind. Stop looking at this one moment or this season. Close your eyes, and imagine what it could be like! Close your eyes, and start to dream of what will be!
2. Open you ears!
The Bible says, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God." I always know that when I start feeling really antsy, impatient, and weak that I need to go back to the source of faith. Stories are like food for faith. The Bible is full of stories that inspire it...Moses, Abraham, Joseph, Daniel, JESUS! Read and relate. Times may have changed, but people and their nature have not changed. I can assure you of that.
Find a good church where the pastor preaches the word in a way that keeps your attention and sheds light on things you have had a hard time comprehending. I am so thankful to have found all of the above!
3. Open your mouth!
When you share your testimony or your story, you build faith in others and in yourself. You never know what you have been through that someone else is going through right now. Your survival story is powerful! If you made it through that ugly divorce, if your heart is healing from the loss of someone close to you, if you have found a way to with debilitating anxiety, if you have been delivered from that addiction, or if you have been healed of that disease then it gives me hope that I can too. And sometimes retelling our stories reminds us of the goodness we have experienced and renews our strength for the next stretch of road that lies before us.
I wouldn't say that I am out of the woods yet (pun intended), but I have picked up a few new tools that have made the journey a little smoother. Faith is my compass, and even though I can't yet see my promise through the trees, I will rely on it to get me there just the same!
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
2 Corinthians 5:7 For we live by faith, not by sight.
Romans 10:17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Hey! My name is Andrea. I'm a teacher by day in a small Texas town, but in every other aspect of my life, I consider myself a learner. This blog is about life: learning through experiences, sharing through stories, and growing through faith.