When I was a teenager, my youth pastor just happened to also be my uncle. Therefore, he felt doubly entitled to be all up in my business most of the time. On rare occasions, we would have minor disagreements, and I remember one in particular. Well, I don't remember the exact content, but I think it was about a boy. The conversation did not end with a resolution. It ended with a label: late bloomer. Me...a late bloomer.
I was so offended! What was he talking about?! I was 16, basically grown. I was about to graduate high school (A YEAR EARLY!), most of my friends were 5+ years my senior, and people had boasted of my maturity since I was about 12. Seriously, what did he mean, late bloomer? My life was right on track, if not ahead a little, and I felt like I had it figured out, like most teens do.
Looking back 15 years, I think he may have had a point. I'm still trying to decide whether he is a prophet or whether I lived up to his label. Chicken or the egg?
I find myself labeling students in my head sometimes. Fellow teacher will understand. Any given year, within the first few days, the shooting stars begin to distinguish themselves. You remember them from school. They are among the first to volunteer, and they actually have well thought out answers to back their enthusiasm. Their work is an impressive benchmark, always on time, of course. They don't have 10 zeros, heck, they have none! They are the standouts, the ones that encompass not only skill, but dedication and drive. My brother is this kid.
In my last post, I gave him a hard time about being a bratty kid, and I don't take it back. But somewhere during maturation, he turned into a quite a lovely human. In high school, he was a social butterfly, involved in everything: drumline, sports, clubs, societies, etc. He was well-liked, having friends across the spectrum. He's smart too, y'all. He finished #3 out of 260 something kids, got a full academic scholarship to college, and many other accolades. He's a junior now on the way to his chemical engineering degree, one of the most difficult disciplines to master. He listed the classes he was taking the other day, and it was as if he was speaking a foreign language to me. He holds tightly to his 4.0 GPA while studying, working, and being very involved in ministry. I heard him preach for the first time the other night and was legitimately impressed. And he is 20! A shooting star buzzing right past my face, he makes me so proud!
We can't all be Jeffrey's though. It takes some of us a while to get our greatness worked out. We don't all get things right the first time around...or the second....or sometimes even the third. I came across this article of famous people in our culture that failed before they succeeded. As I read through it, I noticed 3 types of setbacks.
The Bible has kind of been rocking my world lately, so I am going to use some stories to illustrate these setbacks, but don't worry, I won't be boring. Promise.
So, I recently learned of this guy in the Bible named Jepthhah of Gilead. His name phonetically baffles me, so let's call him Jep. He had a rough start as his mother was a prostitute that had abandoned him (maybe because she couldn't pronounce his name, who knows). He grew up with his dad and some half brothers, and when they got old enough to understand the social stigma of shame associated with his birth, the brothers kicked him off the land because they hated the thought of a harlot's son getting their inheritance.
The thing is that Jep was a really awesome warrior, a "mighty man of valour", and there he was banished to the outskirts of town with his band of outlaw followers. The Bible doesn't really say what happens out there, and my imagination kicks into high gear. I see him out in the land of Tob, getting his workout on, muscles gleaming with sweat in the sun. I picture a warrior training montage set to the Rocky soundtrack, a little Eye of the Tiger action.
You can totally see it too now. We've heard these kinds of stories before. As you may have expected, the Gileads were under attack, and they needed a great warrior to lead their armies. Who do you think they called? Yep, it was Jep.
Sometimes people reject you. Maybe they misunderstand you, feel threatened by you, or just disvalue your worth. When this happens, you have two choices: get bitter or get better. Jep chose better, and he led the very people that had cast him away to victory.
He endured setbacks, and God used him. And even though I don't remember him from Sunday School, he is listed among the great men of faith in the New Testament (Hebrews 11).
One of my favorite examples is Abraham. On multiple occasions, God promised Abraham lots of kids, as many as the stars in the sky. I'm sure he had to be wondering what the hold up was because it took a while, like literally 100 years. I thought pregnancy was rough at 29, so I can't even imagine. Actually, I don't want to imagine any part of the baby making process at 100. No videos for this for this example! You're welcome.
I don't pretend to have any idea why things take longer for some people, but sometimes they do. Patience is a hard one for me, and I think it was for Abraham too. It is so tempting to want to make things happen for ourselves when the delay seems to be infinite and darn impossible. I tend to think one of the reasons for delays has a lot to do with maturity. Waiting for things seems to be one of maturity's trademarks.
If I've learned anything through parenting, it's to not tell Jett about something fun we are doing until literally seconds before we are leaving to go there. He has no concept of the term "not yet". When I tell him not yet, he does one of two things. He takes that as no, and drama ensues. Or he incessantly asks when it is going to happen until it drives me to the brink of insanity.
As adults, we aren't that different. I've prayed for things, and it seemed they would never happen. And I have reacted in both tantrum and nagging. The truth is that God's delays are not his denials. "Not yet" doesn't mean "no". Maybe, we aren't ready for the things we want, and God uses that delay as an opportunity to prepare us. Maybe we are praying for meat, but all we can digest at the moment is pureed peas.
Speaking of wannabe carnivores, the children of Israel in Numbers 11 were whining and crying for meat. Even though they were being sustained by manna, they craved the meat they had in Egypt and were driving Moses and God bananas with their asinine requests. Old Testament God was a little more sarcastic then. He stacked the ground like 3 feet high with quail. The people stuffed their face, and it killed them. They didn't need that meat. It wasn't a time for meat. It was a time for relying on God and his promise.
I am so thankful for New Testament Jesus! I'm pretty sure I would have been struck dead by now without his grace. Now, when I ask for things I'm not ready for, he gently tells me to wait and works on me until I'm ready. Our greatest desires granted at the wrong time can be the very thing that destroys us. He knows what we need and when we need it. We just have to trust him and, the hard part, wait!
One story that I can relate to so well is the story of David. This guy started out as a rising star, slaying giants, gaining favor, and even becoming king. Then he made a series of really bad decisions, among which were adultery and premeditated murder. Pretty terrible, huh? We could look at his failures like we often do our own: like an ending. Game over! But's that's not what happened here. David was called out, he changed his heart, and he took the consequences like a man. God didn't stop blessing him, forsake him, or take it all back.
I like this story so much because it is full of grace. Grace isn't just about not getting the punishments we deserve. It's also about getting the good things that we don't deserve.
I think our face-down-in-the-mud experiences make our success that much sweeter. I think that our biggest struggles and challenges are the things that run us right into our destiny. I believe that NOTHING we go through (pain/setbacks/failures) will be wasted when God has his hands in it!!
David had an affair with Bathsheba, and like I said, there were some consequences. But it was also their son, Solomon, that carried on the bloodline and was the wisest man ever! Oh yeah, and David was still called a man after God's own heart.
The Little Tree:
When I moved into my house, there was a little tree in the front flower bed. It was very ill-placed and not getting enough sun, therefore not really growing. So, I decided to dig it up and move it. For a little tree, there were so many roots, and some of them were damaged in the process. I planted it on the other side of the house and waited. Eventually, it just looked dead. Busy with other things, it stayed there for over a year until one spring I noticed some little flowers budding from it. That's odd, I thought. But it kept blooming, and today the tree stands taller than the house.
I am that tree, and some of you are too. Maybe we've been in the wrong place, we've had parts of us ripped from the ground we've lived in, or maybe it just looks like everything we have hoped for it just totally dead. But it's not.
The awesome thing about life is that, until we're dead, we have the potential for growth. There is no such thing as blooming too late. Blooms are always sweet, no matter when they happen. Think of my little tree and the elite list of late bloomers in the Bible, and be encouraged. Before long, you may be towering over buildings in all of your splendorous beauty!
I dream pretty vividly and pretty often. The other morning I woke up with tears running down my face. I had a beautiful dream about my grandmother, and it was so real I could have touched her, like she was right there in the room with me. My Maw-maw Rountree went home to heaven in December 2002, and I miss her dearly. Though a good bit of time has passed, I find myself thinking about her more and more, especially lately.
I was the first of many granddaughters, and we shared a special bond, although she had the gift of making each of us feel super special and loved. We lived right next door when I was really young, and I remember pushing the chair over to the corded phone that hung in our kitchen and calling Maw-maw to see if she had watermelon. Maw-maw ALWAYS had watermelon!
In fact, the majority of my memories of her evoke memories of food: pancakes made from scratch, hot biscuits and cream gravy, fresh okra and tomatoes, and of course, my favorite, her spaghetti. My grandpa was a gifted gardener and their table overflowed with organic fruits and vegetables. I think we all have baby pictures riding the tractor with Paw-paw and picking with Maw-maw. I remember her little strawberry garden on the right side of the house. We would pick, wash, and sprinkle them with a little sugar. Life was simple and savory at Mam-maw's house.
It makes sense that food is in the forefront of my memories because more than anything, she loved to feed people. With a true servant's heart, she would take our orders one-by-one. If one wanted and sandwich and the other wanted rice and gravy, it was not and issue. Like a short order cook, she would make sure we each got what our little hearts desired, and she found joy in satisfying us. You didn't go to Maw-maw's and not eat! I don't care if it was your first time there or you visited often, she would present you with option after option until you obliged. It was a great offense to leave her house without a full belly.
She had a gentle nature and was full of kindness and patience. She kept my little brother before he started school, and he was a brat. Sorry Jeff, but you know it's true. He told me he remembered getting so mad about something one time that he punched a hole right through their porch screen door (see, bratty). He says she didn't fly off the handle or yell or beat him. She sat him down and in her gentle way got to the source of the problem that caused the outburst. She had such a way with us kids, and we all wanted to please her. She made you want to be good, even if it was hard for some of us (ahem, Jeffrey).
She was not the one to go to if you wanted to vent though, especially if it was about a person that had wronged you. She never spoke negatively about anyone. Even if you had been completely victimized by evil incarnate, she would propose possible reasons why he/she behaved that way. It was completely annoying, but completely admirable. She saw the best in people when no one could or would.
Dad talks about her a lot. He recalls how forgiving she was and how turning the other cheek was almost innate for her. She had a job working in a cafeteria, and there were some ladies that were less than kind to her. He remembers that she handled them with such benevolence and grace. Though mild in nature, he tells me how powerful she was in the Lord. I think of the word "meek" to describe her. If you look that word up in the dictionary, you get something that kind of sounds like "push over", but that is not a very accurate definition, biblically speaking. Translated from the original Greek, a more accurate definition is "strength under control". If you've ever encountered a catty coworker, you know that the easy thing to do is to retaliate, to let the righteous indignation flow, and to proclaim it from the rooftops. That's easy. That wasn't what Mam-maw did. She had the guts to be kind, gentle, and forgiving. She kept control over herself in times when it was difficult to do. Meekness, not weakness.
The Bible says that the meek will inherit the earth. Maw-maw wasn't rich or famous, but then again, she kind of was. She was rich in love and spread it where ever she went. She was known by the many lives she touched with her rich compassion and charity. My cousin reminded me of her funeral the other day. The place was packed, standing room only. The director was amazed and told my uncle that the only time you will see so many people in attendance for a person as old as my grandmother is when they are very, very wealthy. She was. And she leaves my family with a great inheritance. A great legacy!
I now see how these things get passed down when I see glimmers of Mam-maw in my dad and his siblings, and on good days, even a little in myself. I think this is a very cool thing, but also scares me a little. Let me explain.
Having my own children has brought me closer to God for a few reasons. It has really helped me understand His love for me, his child, in a very tactile way. It has been a beautiful, unraveling revelation that amazes me everyday. And I pray a lot more, even if those prayers go something like, "Dear Jesus, help me not to eat my young today...". I'm kidding....kind of. Parenting is by far the most challenging, frustrating, incredible, horribly amazing, life-changing experience ever. I'm learning a few things though. I have learned that my kids will rarely do what I say, but almost always do what I do. This is where the scary comes in. There is nothing more eye-opening and frightening than seeing your 3 year-old parade about the worst aspects of your personality.
See, I can tell Jett to have patience while he is having a complete meltdown until I'm blue in the face. He's 3 though. Although he is very smart, he will not understand the meaning of the word "patience" until I show him what a patient person looks like. How confusing it must be to his little mind for me to be telling him to keep his patience over and over again, while simultaneously losing mine! While I want to leave a legacy like my grandma, if I am not careful, I will end of passing down my liabilities instead.
I recently watched a film that depicted the horrors of slavery during the Civil War. Racism literally makes me ill. I left the theater with my stomach in knots and a complete ball of emotions. I don't understand how people can dehumanize others to the point that they feel justified in acts of complete monstrosity! Where did it come from? I started looking into it. I read an article from a sociologist that basically said that racism did not breed slavery, but in fact it was the other way around. It wasn't because they hated a group of people that they enslaved them. Wealthy plantation owners needed slaves for to serve their own economic interests, so a lie was bred about an "inferior race" to make the idea of slavery more palatable. Poor, uneducated, southern, white men were conned into buying into this faulty logic and hate spread like disease.
I'd like to think we have evolved as humans, but when I look at all that is going on in the world today, I don't know. One of the most disheartening things I've seen teaching school is when a kid spews hatred for a race without even understanding what they are doing or why they are doing it. These are the cases where the liability of hatred was transferred instead of the legacy of love. And so today, we have races warring against each other still because of the wounds of a selfish lie that was instilled so long ago. So, the cycle continues. Hate breeds more hate.
So, how do we stop it? Love? Yes, that's a good start. But here is the thing. You can't give people what you don't have. That sounds simple, but I don't think we get this. Spreading love isn't just sharing a MLK quote on facebook or telling our kids halfheartedly to just love everyone. While dialogue is important, I believe my kids need to see me perform loving acts. I can't do that without really loving. I can't do that if my heart is flooded with apathy. Love is a choice, a command, not a feeling. If I don't feel love inside me for my fellow man, then I need to choose to start. I need to act in loving ways until it comes. If I have love, my actions will show it. I don't remember quotes or conversations with Maw-maw like I remember how she conducted herself and made the people around her feel. It was all in her actions.
The problem isn't white or black or blue. The problem potentially lies within each one of us, what we have inside and what we pass down. Will that be a liability or a legacy? I so wish Maw-maw could have met Jett and Cruze. I know that there would have been so much love shared there. My hope though is that they see aspects of her in me and 100 years from now that her legacy still holds strong!
This year I've had this goal: get healthy. It sounds simplistic, but sometimes the easiest things are the hardest to do! I'm applying this goal to all aspects of my life. I’ve spent money on a good therapist trying to get my mental health in tip top shape, and oh my, how that has helped! Counselling is something I have always believed in theoretically, but I just never thought I needed it. I do! You probably do too. We all could benefit from it. I think it is good to surround yourself with wise people. Proverbs says it keeps us from falling. Maybe if I would have gone before my fall, it could have been prevented. But most people really only start seeking assistance when they are lying on the ground unable to pick themselves up.
So about 9 months ago, I drug myself, skinned knees and bruised elbows, into Chuck’s office. I sat on the left side of that brown leather couch, the preferred side as evident by the uneven wearing of the cushions, and laid my issues out, one by one. The first few sessions, I talked mostly. I kept anticipating that magic moment when he would swoop in, say something profound, and make it all better. It didn’t happen like that. To be fair, it never happens like that. I think this is a common misconception of counseling, among other things. There’s not a quick fix. There’s not an easy or painless path to change. Chuck lays out questions or ideas, but I have to do the work. And I have worked by butt off, and it is starting to pay off. I’m not saying I’m there yet, but looking back over the past months, my mind feels healthier and stronger. Mental health goal, check!
So, lately I have shifted some of my attention to physical health. I have been really intrigued by reading about what the body really needs, namely nutrition. I've been reading about how deficient we are in vitamins and minerals and the vast amount of issues that can come from a single deficiency. You see, the body is an amazing machine designed to heal itself from the inside out, but it needs nutrients to function efficiently. Most of us don’t get them. Even if we eat a steady diet of vegetables and fruits and all the good stuff, they don't offer the full amounts of what we need because the soil that they are derived from is deficient itself. I watched a documentary where this lady was talking about how good soil should contain about 52 minerals, but in reality, the majority of our produce comes from soil that contains about 3 of those vital minerals.
So, we are essentially starving on a cellular level. The paradox of our culture is that we are overfed, but completely malnourished. This really bothers me. It bothers me that disease has ravaged so many people that I love. It bothers me that in our day, it is so hard to for people to give their bodies what they need to function the way they were intended to. It makes me mad that companies sell us things that are literally killing us to make money, and people are largely uneducated about what they put into their bodies. I hate that food, something that is supposed to nurture us, is killing us instead. It is depressing to me that we are so depleted and sick, and that very few are willing to acknowledge why.
So, I started researching supplements: the best vitamins, probiotics, powders, minerals, oils, etc. Then I saw something really interesting, bone broth. Ew, gross. No way, I thought. It sounded extremely disgusting, yet equally interesting. I had to know more. First of all, I must confess that I have always had an aversion to food on bones. I always thought it was kind of disturbing to rip the fleshy meat from an animal carcass with my teeth. It seemed so savage and Paleolithic (before that became a cool thing). I also think I have a problem with it because I’m highly empathetic, and I don't want to have to identify and consider the dead animal that I am consuming. Bones are hard to deny. Give me a boneless skinless chicken breast that in no way resembles the clucking bird, and that's easier for me to “digest”. It's for the same reason that I can't eat crawfish. I know this goes against my southern, Cajun roots, but I cannot eat something that still has its little eyeballs looking at me as I tear its body to pieces. I’m out. Though it’s not my first choice, I’ve come a long way with meat on bones, but crawfish, never gonna happen.
So, back to bone broth, soup from bones. They take a mixture of various bone parts and simmer them on low for at least 24 hours. What this does is draw all of the nutrients from the bones like proteins, minerals, collagen, and amino acids...all of these things that are really good for us. I read that "good" bones for broth are things like chicken feet, necks, wings, cow knuckles, and ox tails. And if you have the right proportions of these jointy bones that your broth will produce a gelatin, and that is really what you want...bone gel. Mmmmmm.
I’m sure your mouth is watering and you’re tempted to google a recipe right now, but focus. As “delicious” as it sounds, there really are a lot of surprising health benefits. It's really good for your gut. I've heard that all health begins in the gut because that is where all nutrients are absorbed and all toxins are filtered. The broth is supposed to help that absorption and seal it from leaking the bad stuff out. It also increases immunity, makes your joints stronger, makes hair and nails longer, and your skin smoother.
Although it still doesn't sound appetizing to me, I think that the concept is really cool: something so nourishing that cultivates life can come from discarded, lifeless remains, the rejects that seemingly have no useful purpose.
I love this idea. It gives me hope. There are days that I feel like that pile of bones, nonfunctional and worthless because life seems to knock the vitality right out of me. I get tired and weary and dry. And there have been times that I have just crumbled. I've looked at myself and thought what good can come from this mangle of bloody cartilage and bone. It's dead and gross, and I don't even want to touch it. But like these bone brothers, the ones that go to butchers and purchase the undesirable chicken necks and beef knuckles, Jesus purchased me in all of my brokenness. He looked at my mound of scraps and said, “I can use that”. Things that are dead and decaying and smelly and gross have purpose to him.
Jesus is the resurrection, and when you accept him you open all of the aspects of your life to his resurgence and restoration. It seems that every time I open the Bible these days, I see beauty emerging from destruction, grave sites becoming birth places, and endings transpiring into beginnings. Life from death. That theme plays out time and time again through the stories in the testaments, old and new, and throughout the story of my life. So, when I have difficult seasons, and I feel so bone dry, brittle, and like I may fracture at any moment, I think of him, the resurrection, the one who takes these old broken bones of mine and makes a broth that nourishes me back to life every time!
This is not a new thing. Way back, God told Ezekiel to prophesy to a valley full of dry bones and tell them to come alive. These people weren't recently deceased either. They had been dead a LONG time! The meaty parts had completely decayed and disintegrated, and the sun had dried them all out. Dead, dead! But Zeke obeys and declares them to live. And God starts putting them all back together, connecting bones back together. There are 206 bones in an adult body, and when I think of the tiny bones, like the ones in your ears, I think of those puzzles with thousands of pieces. People who enjoy those puzzles have always baffled me. Who has the patience or the time? I picture God up there sitting in a comfy chair, sipping hot tea, and putting the pieces together, whipping up masterpieces. No big deal.
I think about strange things sometimes, and I wonder exactly how long it took from start to finish. Minutes? Hours? Think about the complexity of the systems in the human body. It takes us like 9 months to cook up a little tiny human, and these were grown men. I always liked reading those monthly summaries about which body parts were forming in my belly while I was pregnant. It was so fascinating to me. I like to think that the bones in the valley didn’t all come together super quickly. I think Ezekiel had time to take it all in. After the bones were in place, God then covered them with muscles and tissues and tendons and vessels and skin. Take time to picture what that looked like. Can you imagine what it was like to see skeletons, then skinless muscle people, then fleshy dead ones? It’s crazy disgusting and amazing, like a mix between a zombie horror flick and an exploratory surgery documentary, bloody and gutsy! Then he sends the wind, and I imagine the sound of the collective gasp as they breathe in life…again.
There is so much grace in this story to me. To me, grace used to be just a pretty song and a beautiful idea. Oh grace, that’s nice. It was a lovely name for a girl, delicate and dainty. That was before the carnage. That was before life chewed me up and spit me out, leaving me in mangled pieces like a scene from a slaughter house with limbs flying everywhere, a total blood bath. I see grace differently now. Grace is a robust hero, rugged and tough as nails. Grace isn’t afraid of getting its hands dirty, of digging through bloody entrails like a surgeon to save a life. Nothing scares grace, makes it flinch or turn its head. Grace doesn’t get deterred by seemingly fatal situations. Grace is gory and forceful and vigorous. It pursues death like a mercenary, all grisly and blood-drenched.
Maybe this seems like an odd analogy to you. It seems wrong to you because grace is supposed to be a tender, sweet sound. Don’t get me wrong. It’s that to me too. It’s exquisite and all things lovely, but if you have ever been a corpse in a dark valley, you’ve seen the other side too and are grateful for the guts of grace. I’m thankful for that grace today. I’m thankful for bone broth grace, for remnants of death that perpetuate life.
I don’t know if you can truly appreciate good health if you have never been sick. It’s one of those things that we take for granted. These days, there is nothing more intoxicating to me than health. Wholeness and vitality. There is no substitute for it, no medication to get it. It’s all about putting the nutrients in, the things that nourish and sustain. It’s about making the best choices for our heath’s sake. And when we don’t, it’s about letting grace make up our deficiencies.
Cheers to bone broth,
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.
I'm so thankful for those who have fought for my freedom, but I'm even more thankful to the God that makes me eternally free and fills my soul with his everlasting joy! Have a great day, and be safe!
Let freedom ring,
I've never paid much attention to the sky. By that I mean, I've never taken a real interest in astronomy. I can find the Big Dipper (most of the time), and I make note of the moon if it is looking particularly fetching, but that is about the extent of my celestial knowledge. But one morning last October, I walked outside to leave for the day, and I happened to look up. Now, I leave my house really early most mornings and in October, I leave well before sunrise. So, it was still dark out on this particular morning. I could see the crescent moon, and right above it was the brightest thing I have ever seen in the sky besides the sun and moon. I couldn't take my eyes off of it, like it was drawing me into its luminosity. I started to speculate what it may be. It was not an aircraft, that I was fairly certain. I highly doubted it was a star because of its sheer magnitude. Alien spaceship, perhaps. I snapped a picture with my phone and went off to work.
Now, let's backtrack a little bit. A few hours before this siting in the heavens had been hell on earth, one of the darkest nights that I had endured to date. There's no need to drudge up the grimy details, but it was rough. Much ugly crying ensued, followed by the paralyzing feeling of having no control of my life. Rejection was palpable, the kind that comes when one attaches all of their self-worth to another human, and that human decides to go cliff diving without harnessing the other in. They are out for the thrill and danger, and you just get splattered on a rock. Like I said, it was very dark. A wise friend advised me to just give it to God, and go to sleep. I did the best I could and managed to get a few good hours of much needed rest.
A few hours into my day, I kept thinking about the bright light in the sky that morning. I had a few minutes, so I googled it. What I learned was pretty amazing as I read that the brightest object in the east before sunrise that morning had been the planet Venus. It had been very, very prominent. The article did, in fact, declare it to be the third brightest object in the sky, only following the sun and moon. What immediately struck me was the name Venus. I knew that it meant love. I wanted to make sure I had that right, so I looked it up, and sure enough, it did. The Romans followed Greek tradition, and Venus was their version of Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
You see, although this was all very historically and scientifically interesting, I knew what this meant to me. Because I know the God that put the stars in the sky, I knew, without question, that he was making his love visible to me. I was immediately star struck that the Creator of the universe cared for me enough to manifest his affection in such a tangible way. It's like he knew that my emotions were completely divested, so he chose my eyes as the passage to receive it. It was as if he was saying, " I know words don't mean much right now, so let me just show you." Then he wrote his love for me in the stars!
Maybe you think I'm reading way too much into this. Like, really Andrea, Venus would have been there that morning whether you were looking or not. And to you, I would say you are precisely right. Any other morning, I probably would not have even noticed. But brokenness has a way of making you keenly aware, like open nerve endings picking up every sensation. I was in a deficit for love, and as I read about Venus, Love wrapped me up like a warm blanket in the middle of the coldest winter. It was relief. It was restorative. I still get teary even as I type because I finally got it. "His faithful love endures forever." This truth took hold of my heart on this cold, October morning. Love is there all of the time: when we look for it and when we don't. Sometimes being in the wilderness makes it easier to see the stars. So, if you do decide to look up, I'm just going to warn you that it will surpass all of your expectations. The brightness of his love will strike in deep places. This kind of love is not mundane or earthly, it's holy and divine and even a little extraterrestrial!
Go star gazing!
P.S, There is a song called "Pieces" by Amanda Cook. It's a beautiful, modern, moving love song about God. Check it out.
P. P.S. In case you were wondering: I'm still working on Wild Child Part 2. I've had some new developments that I'm really excited about, but it's coming.
Give thanks to the lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to him who alone does mighty miracles.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to him who made the heavens so skillfully.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to him who placed the earth among the waters.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to him who made the heavenly lights--
His faithful love endures forever.
the sun to rule the day,
His faithful love endures forever.
and the moon and stars to rule the night.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to him who killed the firstborn of Egypt.
His faithful love endures forever.
He brought Israel out of Egypt.
His faithful love endures forever.
He acted with a strong hand and powerful arm.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to him who parted the Red Sea.
His faithful love endures forever.
He led Israel safely through,
His faithful love endures forever.
but he hurled Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to him who led his people through the wilderness.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to him who struck down mighty kings.
His faithful love endures forever.
He killed powerful kings--
His faithful love endures forever.
Sihon king of the Amorites,
His faithful love endures forever.
and Og king of Bashan.
His faithful love endures forever.
God gave the land of these kings as an inheritance--
His faithful love endures forever.
a special possession to his servant Israel.
His faithful love endures forever.
He remembered us in our weakness.
His faithful love endures forever.
He saved us from our enemies.
His faithful love endures forever.
He gives food to every living thing.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His faithful love endures forever.
Little boys are wild and woolly little creatures. They are loud and rough, some more than others. Mine are as rowdy and rugged as they come. They love to climb and wrestle and run and rumble. And they love to be outside! Cruze is one and a half, and he's already learned to say, "I go outside". It's their happy place. We can be having a completely terrible day indoors, and when we walk into the backyard or to the park, it's like the worries wash away with the sunshine.
I love seeing them out there too. I love how their little cheeks get flushed and rosy on a warm day and how their sweaty blonde hair frames their smiley faces. I love how the trademark of a good time is that puppy dog smell, dirty fingernails, and muddy shoes. Their energy, excitement, and joy are so intoxicating to watch as they climb into the tree house or sway back and forth on the swing. They play wholeheartedly with all of their strength. It's like I can actually see them getting bigger and stronger with each trek in the great outdoors.
But there comes a time, one that every mother knows, that fun turns to exhaustion. That is when it is time to leave the wilderness and go indoors.
Speaking of kids and wilderness, I've been reading about the Children of Israel lately in the Old Testament. You remember them from Sunday School: Moses and the Red Sea. They escaped the mean, egotistical Pharaoh and were on the way to the Promise Land, but first they had to go through the wilderness. They weren't as excited as my boys to be "outside". In fact, they were complete brats, constantly complaining and giving Moses and God grief. Although he had delivered them out of slavery in Egypt and promised them this awesome land that flowed with milk and honey, they couldn't see past the end of their noses. They had no vision. Stupid kids.
It reminds me of the novel, Lord of the Flies, that I taught last year. This story is about a group of school-aged boys from a private school in England that were put on a plane to evacuate the country during WW2. Their plane crashes over the ocean, and the boys find themselves stranded on an island without adult supervision. The boys eagerly select a leader, and jobs are delegated to ensure their survival and enable their rescue. Only a few of the boys are REALLY trying to get off of the island, while the rest of them become obsessed with unnecessary things like hunting (even though there are plenty of berries to sustain them). As their time on the island lengthens, their humanity decreases. They lose their ability to reason, becoming very savage and ruthless.
Both groups, the Israelites and the boys, behaved badly in the wilderness. They lost track of their purpose.
And there is a purpose for wilderness.
I'm not very outdoorsy. Shocker, huh? So, when I found myself in my "wilderness", it was kind of a culture shock. With the restrictions of my past gone, my first reaction was a sense of total freedom: no one could tell me what to do here. I could run wild and do whatever I wanted. It was liberating...for a while. It didn't take long for the wide open spaces to start closing in on me, and the fresh air that seemed to fill my lungs with life began to choke the air right out of me. Then the longing set in. Sometimes I longed for the past, all the while knowing I couldn't go back and, deep down, not really wanting to. The future was no longer perceivable. I couldn't navigate this jungle that I found myself in, so I just felt stuck. I spent years here, and my surroundings became familiar. The emptiness became normal. Then, something happened that jolted me into awareness, consciousness. In this state, the question can be raised: what is the intended purpose for wilderness?
Wilderness: the place between where you've been and where you're going. It's the area between salvation and promise. It's a training ground. It's a place to iron out the kinks. It's a place to bury dead things and to birth new things. It's a waiting room. It's a growing place.
The Bible says that the Lord led the Children in the wilderness for 40 years to:
1. humble them
2. test them
3. see what was in their hearts
Humble. From what I can tell, God likes this characteristic...A LOT! He is not a fan of arrogance and pride. Moses was described as the most humble man on the face of the earth, and he was pretty tight with God, so I think there is a correlation here. The vastness of the wilderness can make you feel small. At some point you need to realize that you can't weather it alone. This doesn't mean you quit trying. It means you quit trying to do it alone. You humble yourself by recognizing your inadequacies and start relying on something bigger than yourself.
Test. When I give my students a hard test, they always ask me why I hate them. Each time, I explain that because I love them, I want them to master the concept. That is the essential purpose of a test: the mastery. Comparatively, we often feel victimized when we are tested, like it is a personal attack. But maybe, just maybe, it is to drive out a weakness in us and help us conquer something that may currently be controlling us. Remember that Jesus himself went into the wilderness for 40 days and was tested in every way imaginable. In the wilderness, Jesus defeated the devil. When my kids fail the aforementioned hard test, we reteach and retest. How many times have we failed a test we were given? I have. Many times. So, you learn from the failure, and you better believe that a retest is on its way.
To see what is in the heart. Nothing will bring out what you're made of like the wilderness. When you are in survival mode, when there is pressure and testing, when you're somewhere you really don't want to be, and there is no one else around is when your true self will emerge. What are your instincts? To doubt, to complain, to distract yourself? If you're like me: yes, yes, and yes. It goes against our nature to respond gracefully in faith, but it can be done...with help.
We must have help. We mustn't stay there too long. Spend too long in the wilderness, and things will start to go south. With the Israelites, we see a forgotten gratefulness sour into reckless abandonment. With the boys, we see basic human kindness convert to sheer savagery. Spend too long in the wilderness, and you will end up like Tom Hanks in Castaway, a little crazy, talking to a volleyball named Wilson. Spend too long in the wilderness and you may end up like Chris McCandless, a wilderness aficionado that made the fatal mistake of eating the wrong seeds that contributed to his starvation in Into the Wild (based on a true story).
What the wilderness is not: it's not a place to die. It's not the destination or a place to make a home. It's the means, not the ends.
Everyone spends time in the wilderness, some just stay longer than others. Just remember why you're there and WHO is with you, even when you can't see or feel him. And don't get so distracted that you stop looking for rescue vessel. We have a promise and a purpose, and that doesn't include dying in the wilderness!
Deuteronomy 8:2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.
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.