Is it really necessary to continue learning (or would it be called re-learning) the same lessons throughout life? It has been so frustrating to me, the thought that I must go up and down the same roads over and over again. What is the point of learning them if we must just learn them again?

Then, I think I figured out that we aren’t re-learning the lessons. That isn’t what happens at all. We learn them the first time, or whenever it is that we are actually able to learn them, sometimes it is many more time s later. Then we pass through that season of life. What we learned ceases to apply, and so it probably goes to the back of our minds. It’s like studying for a test, or taking a class. We need what we need to learn, and then we forget it when the class is over. Class is done, it’s time to move on to the next one. We learn something different for the next class, and then we must forget that material in order to take the next class. So on and so forth until we have earned our degree, and we don’t really realize that everything we learned before actually helped us for the following classes. We took bits and pieces from each one to help us get to the ultimate goal.

That seems to be how it actually works. Right now, in my life, I am not actually re-learning a lesson. I am merely going through another time where what I learned at a previous lesson needs to come more to the forefront than something else. I am struggling to remember how it goes, and I am feeling betrayed by life. I am even feeling that God isn’t on my side, and that He has forgotten about me. It was then, in the darkness of that lonely mindset, that I came to understand I was not being tried and tested. I was merely living. Life was happening to me. And a lot of life looks the same, over and over, just a bit different. I didn’t have to look inside of myself and dread digging up old skills, exercising muscles that I hadn’t used in a while. I was going to be tired, and sore, but I didn’t have to be bitter. When I realized that it was not being done ‘to’ me, that it was all just happening, I felt strength instead of weariness. I felt that I could do this [again] because I got through the first time, and there wasn’t actually going to be a finish line (that part will come later). It wasn’t actually about me at all. I just needed to hone those skills, tap into those resources, and use them, and not take it personally. Perhaps someone else was learning a lesson, and I just so happened to be stuck in the crosshairs.

Maybe we do have to learn lessons over sometimes. But not all the time. Not every time. I probably will do better some times than others. But it helps me tremendously to know that I am not being aimed at. It’s not like I’m the only one standing under the cloud. We are all under the sky, and sometimes it rains, and sometimes it is raining over here but not over there, and I am never the only person getting wet, with a little rain cloud following me around. Sometimes I might run through the rain, splashing, and sometimes I might use the proper equipment to stay dry, and sometimes I might pull over to let the storm pass. I think there is a song somewhere about singing in the rain, and I am not much of a singer, but I imagine singing in the rain would probably make someone a much better singer than they would be on a bright and clear day.

Whatever the case (as a dear friend of mine always says), if this is as hard as my life gets, I guess I’ll take it. Maybe not all the time. But at least today.

I love the Bible.

I really do.

Probably my favorite thing about the Bible is the way it depicts God.  It shows Him to be a warrior for His people, coming with a sword, and an army: He does not take injustice lightly.  He will vanquish His people: and I am one of them!  Can you believe what an amazing feeling that is, knowing that I will be vanquished?  It’s enough to let me surrender my battles, to give Him all those little feelings, and the huge ones too, where I think someone has treated me poorly, or something went terribly wrong.  He can decide.  He is the warrior.  He can vanquish me.

He is a roaring lion.  That simple phrase is so incredibly packed.  Lions generally live in prides, with one male being the dominant leader.  He conquers the uprisings, and maintains order.  He is known to circle the periphery of his pride, keeping an eye out for predators, always on the ready to protect, and He NEVER shirks his duty.  Everyone else works together knowing that He will keep everything as it should be, and they need only do their part.  The sound of His voice clears the countryside for miles.  The image of a roaring lion is truly breathtaking.

But what about when the Bible contradicts itself?

Because it does, right?  I mean, everyone knows that.

Aside from the incredible depiction of God as Sovereign, Mighty, and Creative, the Bible is my favorite book for it’s unwavering reliability.  Not surpsisingly, the Book about a perfect God, a sovereign Being, and an all-knowing Creator, contains no organic contradictions.  Any seeming mistakes are purely man-made, and assumed by man, which is not surprising since men are good at making mistakes, and they are good at pretending like they never do; they are even better at thinking that they should be God.  It has to be the Bible’s problem, right?

I don’t know how many times I have heard people say something about the Bible because that is just what everyone else says about the Bible.  There is no interest in getting an actual answer, it just seems right since it is a popular viewpoint, and when someone doesn’t really want to believe something they will say whatever it takes to make them feel good about the decision they have made.

The Bible doesn’t waste time trying to convince people.  “Believe in me because…”  It lays out the facts, it sings God’s praises, it gives the examples, and the rest is up to us.  It is up to us to pursue the evidence; it is up to us to take the plunge.  More often than not people want to be ‘sold’ on something.  They must be begged, cajoled, convinced.  They need the small print, and a lawyer.  They are afraid of being had, so they try to ‘have’ the would-be ‘haver’.  “I don’t want to look like a fool, so I will say that the Bible is foolish.”  But they won’t do the work themselves.  They need it to be done for them, because if God really wanted them to believe in Him so bad, He would come knock on their door, open His briefcase, and say, “I can offer you these plans for this price, and won’t that be nice?”  God isn’t a traveling salesman.  He is a warrior.  He isn’t on trial; He is a roaring lion.  He doesn’t need you to grade His work, and He doesn’t have security problems.

Many people who call themselves Christians have a hard time accepting the Word of God as complete and concise.  They assume that it is merely a rough draft, a loose kind of guide.  However, a belief in the Bible is the foundation of the entire Christian system.  One cannot claim to believe in God but discredit His very words of instruction and encouragement.  Not everyone believes all of the components about the Bible are true, and a lot people choose to read them and interpret as they will.  Understandably, this method leaves the unbelievers to assume that the material of the Bible is inaccurate and absurd.  Not even it’s own supporters will support it entirely.

People develop contradictions when they fail to read the Bible as it was meant to be read.  An ancient text of Middle-Eastern descent cannot be read as a modern, Western piece of literature.  Sequence was not a priority for the writers of the Bible.  That simply isn’t how authors wrote in that time and location.  Most of the Old Testament was written as a song, because it was sung.  It was written as poetry, not as matter-of-fact, and for some reason that really bothers people.  The Hebrew language is complex and intricate and, lo and behold, the Bible was originally written in Hebrew.  Many people/places/things have different words to describe them in the Hebrew language.

A lot of times, especially in the Old Testament, a verse will represent one situation (God created the earth, and He was pleased with it.), and not too many verses later an opposing idea is depicted (God repented of what He had created, and He was saddened by it).  When the history of the Bible is studied, it is easy to see that fifteen hundred years passed between these two passages.  During that time was what Christians refer to as the fall of man.  God could no longer remain satisfied with His work after that, unless a similar change had taken place in Himself.  He would have had to become okay with imperfection.  And God doesn’t change.

The books of the Bible were written by different authors.   That fact that they say things differently is actually a credit to the Bible.  If everything was too clean it would look like a hoax.  When people get on the witness stand and tell the exact same story, the same way, it is a red flag that they have conspired and concocted.  The Bible is full of the words of God and of good men, as well as the words of Satan and of wicked men.  The phrase, “You shall surely die”, were words spoken by God, where “You shall not die” were words spoken by Satan.  They are contradictory statements, but they are spoken by opposite individuals.  It is important to ask: Who is speaking?  Are they recorded as inspired language, or are they matters of history?  Does the writer endorse, or simply narrate, what has been written?

Each ancient writer chose to arrange their work in their own way.  Some of them were historians, so they elaborated extensively.  A different author could choose to omit or expand to suit his purpose and personality.  They haven’t ‘left anything out’, they merely chose not to use certain information.  If we have to study everything else to learn it, why don’t we also study the Bible?  It is rich with history, and when we start learning the history, the Bible begins to come alive.  Does anyone remember the uncomfortable story of when Jesus sent a legion of demons into a herd of pigs, who then threw themselves off of a cliff?  What an odd and unsavory bit.  How awkward and obnoxious it seems.  If you were to research the location and time period of the story, you would find that the people who lived in that town were pagan, and practiced pig worship.  It is appropriate then to see the demons wanting to go into the pigs, and even more appropriate that the pigs would be destroyed, as Jesus would not spare the demons from torturing a human being only to allow them to be worshiped.  I love learning these things!

It goes without saying that the passing of time was employed differently during the times of the Bible.  If two ancient writers seem to be in disagreement about the time period of a certain event it becomes our responsibility to investigate whether or not they are using the same chronological method.  We don’t get to assume somebody got it wrong somewhere.  Fahrenheit may read 212, and Centigrade reads 100, but we know that they are both saying the same thing.  The Jewish people referred to a year in it’s entirety.  For example,a child born in the last week of an ending year was considered a year old as soon as the new year began, even though only a few days had passed.  (This method is still practiced in certain areas of the East).  The last hour of the day would be seen as the whole day which is why, even though Jesus died on a Friday evening and rose again on a Sunday morning, it is referred to as Him being three days in the tomb (since Friday is considered an entire day, as are Saturday and Sunday).  No discrepancy, only a different method of computation.

I already mentioned that the Hebrew language is difficult and extensive.  Thus, in ancient Arabic, there are 100o different words for the word ‘sword’, 500 for ‘lion’, 200 for ‘serpent’, and so on.  The Hebrew language has at least 50 words to describe a body of water, 12 for ‘darkness’, 23 for ‘wealth’…  Many people had different names (Jacob was also Israel), and a lot of times someone’s name changed after a certain event, and this custom still takes place sometimes in certain cultures.  So when people begin to get excited about how the Bible says that the animals were created before man, but then it says that the animals were created after man, it would be crucial to evaluate the method of how that book was written, and then evaluate the original Hebrew words.  You would find that the contradictory phrase would be verified after the correct explanation of a word.

John Wesley developed a fabulous system for determining if something is ‘of God’.  It consists of four different sources, to be evaulated in order: Scripture, tradition, reason, experience.  It is a fascinating and reliable method.  First and foremost someone must study the Scriptures, and see what they have to say about it.  I once heard a minister preaching on John Wesley’s method, and then use the controversial Creation passage to say that Scripture didn’t say the same thing, so the important thing is not when or how something happened, but that it isn’t important!  Treating people well is what is important.  I agree, treating people well is crucial.  But she approached the Bible as a Western piece of literature, and was able to therefore convince her congregation that since the Scriptures are unstable we shouldn’t be focusing on them, but on how we make other people feel.  This was a sad situation that could have been avoided if she had done what she had been called to do: evaluate the Scriptures.  Instead of defending the handbook of our belief system, she encouraged it to be tossed aside.

There is no denying that the Biblical manuscripts sustained some discrepancies, but these were very much man-made.  Men make mistakes, even scribes.  One ancient figure meaning one thing can look almost identical to a different figure that means something else.   It would have taken an absolute miracle for no copy errors to be made.

Dogmatic prejudice seems to be the largest contributor to the Bible being accused as inaccurate.  Men go on about how the Bible needs to be treated like any other book, but then they treat it as they wouldn’t dare treat another book.  In all fairness, the criticisms are more inconsistent than what they claim to be criticizing.  I think people tend to be hostile towards something they don’t want to believe in, and we will always find a way to disprove something if we want to.

The Bible has awakened intellect inside of us like no other book, and I think that is why God chose, and allowed, to have the Bible recorded in such a way that would encourage us to really learn it.  Jesus Himself spoke in such a way that would test the character and motives of men.  He said, “Unless you eat my flesh, and drink my blood,” because it would be repugnant to someone that was insincere.  Many of His followers chose not to follow Him anymore after He said this, but this was to the benefit of the ministry, since they were choosing not to seek out the meaning of the words.  They were proud and superficial, and could not well serve the Lord.

I have often been skeptical of certain passages in the Bible.  I could go on and on about which ones, and where they are.  Each time that I dug into the troublesome passage and studied it, I grew even more passionate about my beliefs, and fell even more in love with the delicacy and richness it presented me.  I only needed to care about it as much as it claimed to care about me.

The antique Bible has been preserved in such a fashion that far out-weighs any other ancient manuscript.  And that’s saying something.

The Bible is a powerful tool.  Yes, it has been abused, and that is truly heart-breaking.  But when people have chosen to truly follow it and it’s principles we see, all across history, even to this day, revivals, servanthood, miracles, people going to the ends of the earth, feeding of the poor, educating the unreachable, ministering to the dead and dying, fresh water, clean food, life skills, healthy habits…  Compare a society that believes to one that does not.  The result will be staggering.  True following of the Bible cleans the spirit, strengthens the heart, and blesses the person.

 

Life is hard, BUT God is good.

This might be the biggest BUT of all, because life IS hard.  Sometimes we just stop there: Life is hard.  Period.  We need to stop putting periods up.  And, goodness gracious, we really need to stop putting up those exclamation points.  Life is hard for everyone.  We all have hardships.  Sometimes they don’t even begin to compare to the hardships of another, and that’s just the honest and un-beautiful truth.  There are people whose skin is literally peeling off of their bodies because they don’t have enough food, and I still think my life can be hard.  We all lose people, forever, or sometimes for just a little while.  We all lose money, property, the feeling of self-worth…  We all second-guess and double-check.  The instability and uncertainty is hard.

That is a basic fact of life.  It is uncertain.  It just is.  No matter how secure we may feel, no matter what we may possess, or the people we may know, deep down inside we all must admit that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  This can be a truly hopeful thing to stand on, or it can seem like a dreadful curse.  People do some crazy things because they don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  It doesn’t matter how much life experience we pack into today.  It doesn’t matter how free we seem to think we are.  Tomorrow is a different day.  This can instigate people to live selfish lives, or it can encourage them to be selfless.

This is the part that I like: BUT God is good.

Life is hard, because every day changes, because every moment is a secret, BUT God is good.  That part doesn’t change.  There is ultimate security, stability, and certainty in that statement.  I suppose you have to want to believe it for it to be true.  If you don’t want to believe something, it just won’t resonate for you, no matter how obvious it may seem to someone else.  If you don’t want God to be good, you can make Him look however you want Him to look, and He really will look that way to you.  I have definitely known some hardships in my life, for sure they don’t involve malnutrition, and I still know that God is good.

When we say that life is hard, do you know what God says?  “It’s hard for you, BUT it’s not hard for me.”

Oh my goodness.

That phrase took the breath right out of me.  And it just did it again.  I am a small person in a sea of people.  Life swirls around me, catching on other people’s lives, pushing other people’s lives, being pushed by others too.  I am so weak, and so tired.  Sometimes I am just downright pathetic.  That is the blessed time where I have somewhere to go with my pain and frustration and hurt.  I have somewhere to go and drop off my baggage.  Everyone else can choose to do the same: go to God with that bag full of “This is hard, and this, and this…” and drop it off.  Or continue to schlep it around for the rest of your life, and probably beyond.

God is so ridiculously personable.  Our egotistical minds is what makes Him look otherwise.  He reaches out to us every moment of every day.  When I finally decided to try and see what that looked like I saw beauty, and love, and freshness: in my friendships, in nature, in my home.  It didn’t matter if my home burned down tomorrow.  For sure it would hurt.  For sure it would be HARD.  But this home was given to me, and so will the next one.  No worries.  For real.

I heard a tremendous story about a man.  He lost his wife.  He was overcome with pain.  I can’t begin to fathom what the feeling of losing my spouse would be like.  I have lost people, and I have been afraid of losing people.  None of that compares to what I feel when I think of losing my husband.  It could totally happen.  The more time I spend with him, the more irreplaceable he becomes.  How could anyone spend ten, twenty, thirty years with their spouse, lose them, and move on?  This man did.  He lost his wife, and his life looked like ashes.  This is what he said, clinging to a friend, tears soaking his shirt, “I lost my wife, BUT I will not lose my God.”

If the previous phrase took my breath away, that last one just about knocked me over.

What a glorious, glorious prospect.  We can lose anything, anyone, and at anytime.  BUT we don’t have to lose our God.  Life is hard for us, BUT it’s not hard for Him.  Life is hard, BUT God is good: because we can’t lose Him, because it isn’t hard for Him.

That man could have never dreamed that two years later he would be head over heels in love.  He would be a newly wed again and, get this, a stepfather to TEN children!  That same friend who had held him while he was sobbing after the death of his first wife, saw him sitting on the sofa, completely covered by beautiful step-daughters.  Yes, he lost one woman, and he gained many more.  This man knew that life was hard.  BUT he also knew that God is good.  He experienced the hardship; he experienced the goodness.

You can fill in that blank.  “I lost my ____.”  But don’t put the period there.  Choose something better.  “I lost my ______, BUT I will not lose my God.”

God is good.  Notice Him today.  Thank Him today.  ‘Til the end of your days, and the beginning of the next ones, you won’t regret it.  I know that I haven’t, and this hard life of mine has barely gotten going.

 

 

This thought comes back to me often, every day perhaps, and sometimes even multiple times a day: have I been a friend a to God?

We so very badly want God to be a friend to us. And if we don’t really want Him to be our friend, we want Him to do all of those amazing things for us that His Word says He can do, and does for other people.

We are a people of the senses. We need to touch, taste, see, hear, and FEEL. And not just feel, but feel good. We are a people of flight, or of fight. Some of us flee from bad feelings, and some of us stay and fight. We think that a bad feeling is a sign of betrayal, but it could just be a sign of ‘reality’. Do we have the courage to look into that bad feeling, or do we need to turn ourselves away and be soothed?

Have we been a friend to God?

The times that I have felt that God was being cold to me, that He just wasn’t caring enough, were the times that I was actually the guilty party. They say that a guilty mind is accusatory. The defense begins. It is a natural tendency to get defensive, but to behave defensively is just the sign of an under-developed individual. It is the inability to see the other side, to respect someone else. It is the lack of self-control, which is essentially immaturity. I think of my small daughter, only seven months old. Her reaction is to cry. When she is hungry, when she is uncomfortable, when she is frustrated, when she is angry, when she is scared, when she is in pain… she will always cry. Only as she grows older, only as she develops and matures as a human being, will she begin to understand that she does not need to cry. She will see that effective communication will take care of her. We don’t let children assume that they have reached maturity, and no longer need to develop. So why do we let ourselves?

Have we been a friend to God, or are we just being defensive? Are we just being immature?

If someone does not reach out to me, if they don’t take the time to call me, or talk to me, or stay in touch with me, I don’t consider them a friend. They can tell people all they want that they are my friend, but that wouldn’t really be the truth. Friends are there for each other. Somebody shouldn’t be surprised if they haven’t spoken to me for two years and then I don’t give them a birthday gift. I remember the birthdays of my closest friends. But they are…close. Giving them a gift would be like giving it to myself.

I think I always come back to the same few concepts. We are unhappy and defensive because we are never satisfied. Only when we choose to be satisfied can we really be at peace. We don’t want to betray ourselves by admitting that maybe those bad feelings are our own problem, and not somebody else’s ‘fault’.

God cannot be our friend if we are not His friend.

We cannot be a friend to someone without spending time with them. Without getting to know them. Without feeling on their behalf.

The thing is, people just don’t ‘like’ God. They don’t have a ‘use’ for Him because He hasn’t proven Himself to be useful. How is it that we can get a new iPhone, and immediately open it, and learn it? We don’t take the phone back to the store and say we don’t like it, we don’t want it anymore because it doesn’t work, only to find out that we never took the time to even turn the thing on. We do that with our iPhones because we know that they will work if we invest the time. If we do our part. Would more people be as enthusiastic about God if they knew that He would ‘work’? Same as an iPhone manual says that you WILL get phone calls if you turn the phone on, the Bible tells us that God will be there for those who ask Him to be. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the Word of God is “living and active”, so we know that it is as good today as it was back when it was written.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I you.”

We cannot abide in someone without them abiding in us. Someone cannot abide in us without us abiding in them. That is simply not how a relationship works. We can tell ourselves falsehoods all day long. We can set up the defense and stand behind it until we rot away.

And when the times come that I am praying, every day, and He still seems so far away, I can look deep into my heart and evaluate the nature of my prayers. If my prayers be true and pure, and not manipulations of our relationship, I can sit back and wait. I can hold on with both hands and know that the Lord is my friend because He said that He was, and that He will come back to me. The real question is: am I His friend? Will I be faithful?

The story of Abraham on the verge of sacrificing his son always disturbed me. What a horrifying ordeal that must have been. The common assumption is that God wanted Abraham to prove himself. Even in Christian media we see it being communicated that God demands a test of his faithful servant. That simply isn’t true. In fact, God was communicating His deep love even in those moments. He walked his friend through the greatest trial a person could face, so that Abraham would know that he had more faith than he could have dreamed. Abraham had no idea how much faith he had in God until he took his son up onto that mountain, and nearly sacrificed him. After that, Abraham was invincible. He knew that he would be strong through it all. He needed that strength, that credibility, to become the father of the world. Every last human being on this planet goes back to Abraham, just like God promised. In fact, if you want to get really serious, God did Abraham a favor. We talk about Abraham thousands of years after he died. We respect his passion and commitment. We revere and exemplify his character.

What an honor. How exciting. To know that God Himself wants to show us the strength of our spirits. He wants us to see the stuff that we are made of. When we get defensive, when we ‘give up’ on God, we are really only giving up on ourselves. That actually makes me hurt in a physical way. And I think that is why the ugliness sets into people. Because they have given up on themselves, and they don’t even know it. They have no idea the strength that they could possess, because they do not use it. They have allowed their spirits to atrophy, and then they rage when they cannot even move aside the smallest burdens that come their way.

Relationships ebb and flow because they consist of two human beings. I know that human beings are unreliable, and that they are independent. We each have our own lives, and our own trials, and our own schedules. This means that sometimes we are in better communication than others. But I have found that during the times when I have stood by my friend, even when they knew that they weren’t being the greatest friend in return, we became stronger than ever. We have built that trust. They do the same for me, and those are the kind of people that I can call in the middle of the night when I need someone to cry to.

The best part about God is that He is perfect. He doesn’t ebb and flow. Numbers 23 reminds us that God is not human, so He does not struggle with keeping promises. In fact, God can bestow every good and perfect gift because He does not shift like the shadows (James 1:17).

So I know that when I am feeling like I am not close to the Lord, or that He isn’t being close to me, it is something that I need to work on. I need to just do my part. I need to hang in there. I need to use the strength that I know has been given to me (Phil. 4:13).  I need to be a friend to God.  I need to abide in Him, as Abraham did, and everything else will fall in line, to the end of my days and probably even beyond.

 

I know that’s not how the song goes, but I was thinking about friends.

I was thinking about how my closest friends, the dearest people in my life, are the ones who tell me that I can call them at two am if my kids are up and I am bored and need someone to talk to.  They are the ones who buy me coffee from Dunkin Donuts just about every time they know that they will see me.  They send a text that says, “I miss you.”  It means, “I know we are both busy, and we can’t talk right now, but we will talk soon, and I am thinking about you until then.”  My friends have lists of topics they want to talk about, that they scratch off as we talk about them- I hear the pen make the mark through the phone, it is a such a real sound, and it puts us in the same place, even across the country.  They send me Bible verses and articles that they think will help me where I’m at in my life right now.  They mail me chocolate chip cookies, because we can’t eat them together.  They are willing to exchange hundreds, literally hundreds, of emails over the years.  Sometimes they just say, “I’m sorry.”  Sometimes they say, “My world is better because you are in it.”

I have moved around a lot.  I have made a lot of friends, and a lot of us knew that we would be friends only for a season.  But the ones that I still have, most of them are people who have also moved around a lot.

They understand what it means to be a friend.  And so the friends who still live in my hometown(s), even if they have never moved away, the ones who are willing to work that hard to stay my friend even without knowing what it really means, I know that we will be friends forever.

A lot of times, people think that I have left them by moving away, and by doing so I have knowingly agreed to inherit sole responsibility to maintain the ties.  After all, I am the one that left.  They don’t mean it in a bad way, I know that.  In fact, when they say, “I haven’t heard from you in forever”, they think they are saying something nice.  Even though I was the one that made the phone call in the first place.  Did you know that the phone works in both directions?  I know that they don’t know what they are doing.  I know that they genuinely like me.  But it’s almost like they forget that I am still existing, even outside of their own world, one that they have never ventured outside of.  It’s like they are waiting for me to come back, to return to their world.  To find ways to make my world a part of theirs.  Usually they are used to seeing their friends, and catching up that way.  It isn’t hard to send a text, or make a quick call that says, “Lunch on Wednesday?”  It’s much harder to send text after text, leave voice mail after voice mail.  To take an hour to catch up.  It doesn’t occur to some people that I have a house too.  That if it’s expensive for them to come visit me, it’s expensive for me to come visit them.  And exhausting, and stressful.  I get it, you only have so many vacation days, and you want to actually go on vacation.  But so do I…

People say to me, “I miss what we used to have.”  They say, “We should keep in touch more.”  And then I never hear from them again.  It sounds like they are just telling me that I should reach out to them better.  That they will be there, patiently waiting, whenever I have found a way to sort through my life and have made them a proper place.  I will try to be there, to hold up my end of the relationship.  And then we both know that I am the only one who will do the work, and so I let them go.  Maybe they want to be let go anyway.  I am sure I will call them every now and then, send an email, shoot a ‘hello’.  Usually, that’s where it stays.  I’m not complaining.  I am happy with a few, close friends.  Maybe I am….sad.  Maybe I am…disappointed.  But I think I’m just annoyed.

When my friends go through seasons, as we all do, that may mean I have to carry the weight for a while.  I know without a second thought that their time will come to reciprocate.  We want to do the work.  We want to do it together, and for each other.  It’s different than being taken advantage of.  It’s just support.  It’s different than knowing that they are holding back.  They aren’t even asking for it.

My friends have bought me plain tickets.  They have paid for all the groceries when I have paid to come visit them.  They give gas money, they make me food.  They make sure I have a fan to sleep with, and even let me borrow their underwear.  Maybe we only see each other once a year.  And that hurts.  A lot.  But that means we talk on the phone.  A lot.  We send each other letters and cards and packages.  We text pictures.

And you know the craziest part…

…we don’t even need Facebook to stay in touch.

 

 

Dear Ones,

Sometimes I think to myself that you cannot possibly teach me more than you already have.  And then you do…

When I stepped into motherhood I simultaneously packed my baggage and embarked on another journey.  These journeys would run parallel for a time, and eventually intersect.  Along the way I would become whole, and real, and eternally grateful for the chance I got to become a better person so that I could be a healthy parent.

I could have never foreseen the intense of amount of pain that I would go through.  I was ripped up, chewed up, and burned to the bone.  Every day I was learning how to dress and clean the wounds, old and new.  I did this because I knew that if I did not there would be infection.  Infesting.  Poisoning.  And eventually: pollution.  More than anything I did not want to pollute my family.  There were parts of me that I needed to access and carve down, recycle and reuse; there was a bonfire inside of me, all day, every day.

My first prayer for you is that you never think you won’t ever need help.  There is always room, and time, for self-improvement.  Every day we should be working on ourselves, from the inside out, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Do not be a person that is chronically against admitting that they can be wrong, or are perhaps suffering, or even that you may need to change.  These people wind up chronically hurting and using the people in their lives, often even losing them.  The earth is constantly going through seasons.  The planets are continuously orbiting and rotating.  The animals are adjusting themselves according to all of this.  Why wouldn’t we?  There are always opportunities in our lives to step back, look at ourselves, evaluate and assess.  I pray that you can take healthy criticism, but mostly that you can criticize yourself in a healthy way.

As I left myself to become someone else, someone better, someone stronger, someone more beautiful, I discovered the intensity of how much Jesus wanted to come through for me.  He wanted to be the same Jesus who put coins in the mouth of a fish, instead of just pulling them out of His pocket.  He wanted to be the same Jesus who not only redeemed the woman caught in adultery, but also told her to go and sin no more.  The same Jesus Who spent His life doing nothing but good, even while people made fun of Him, and targeted Him, and eventually killed Him. 

He showed me that He knew my pain.  His generosity was met with skepticism time and time again.  His grace was mocked.  His mercy was twisted up and used against Him.  His love was accepted and then discarded by His closest friends, and He was taken advantage of by others who claimed to love Him back.

More importantly than knowing my pain, though, He showed me that there was a purpose for it.  That I was actually not supposed to leave this world unmarred, unstained, and unscarred.  He didn’t.  Even after He was resurrected His scars remained.  I never thought of that as significant before.  I just assumed that of course He would bear the marks of His ordeal.  However, His body had been restored.  It didn’t need to maintain those marks.  The Father allowed them to remain as a testament, as a story, to show the purpose.  This is what happens when we lay down our lives for others, for Jesus: and it is beautiful.  Every scar I bear transforms me that much more into the image of Christ.  They are beautiful on Jesus.  They are beautiful on me.    

I am so thankful for that. 

May these truths be true in your lives, dear ones.

The sweetness of surrender leads to the most empowered freedom possible.  I pray that you come to know this.  That you can embrace responsibility for yourself.  This is a two-fold wonderful process.  First, it means that you can experience injustice, but that you don’t need to justify yourself.  That day will come.  The battle has already been won.  Accepting this releases us from all of the pain, the strain, and the stress that we would otherwise incur.  You will spend your whole life waiting to get something back that cannot be returned to you.  That is the core of forgiveness: acknowledging that whoever has wronged you cannot give back what they have taken, and then moving on.  “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…”  We must accept Christ’s forgiveness on the grounds that we simply cannot repay Him.  Also, we must extend forgiveness in acknowledgement that we cannot be repaid.

Humility is the practice of not always needing to be right, or heard, or understood.  It is no one else’s job to make you feel better, or right, or beautiful. 

Grace is a tricky thing.  It goes hand in hand with forgiveness, truth, and love.  It is the sister of mercy, and the mother of humility.  But grace is not a free pass.  For anyone.  Including yourself.  The Lord extended His grace to us, and we must then choose to conduct ourselves in a grateful manner.  How tragic to take advantage of Grace!  At the same time, don’t let others trick you, even using the name of Jesus, into not keeping boundaries.  As human beings we are flawed and selfish.  Others will often expect you to fill the holes in their lives that they can, and should, be filling on their own. Maintain boundaries, dear ones.  We must openly acknowledge when someone else is treating us in an unhealthy way.

Sometimes the Lord will ask us to extend grace that we think will be impossible to extend.  This is where you must allow Him to bridge the gap.  He knows the hearts of everyone and sometimes, based on what you do not know, He will require you to pursue someone that you hate the thought of pursuing.  Sometimes He will tell you to take a step back.  Same as Jesus’ love is relentless, so must ours also be.  Ask Him to show you what that looks like.  If someone shows a change of heart, we must be ready to receive them.   

All of this has been monumental in my life.  As I have applied what I have learned I have felt the mountains move inside of me.  I cannot move the mountains inside of anyone else, nor do I want to, but by now I literally know that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Remember: we cannot expect someone, anyone, to believe that God is love, that Jesus loves them and all of us, if we are not displaying that love. 

This means that we cannot hold nonbelievers to the same standards that we live by.  This makes absolute sense.  Someone who does not embrace the same life choices will not live the same life choices.  This is not the same thing as saying, “To each their own.”  It is crucial that we maintain our integrity.  But that doesn’t mean that we should only interact with people who have the same values.  Choose your closest friends as people who share the same beliefs, and will help you nurture and protect them.  But show love and respect to anyone and everyone, same as Jesus did.  Every last one of us was created in God’s image.  We have an obligation to represent Christ accurately.  We can learn how to do this by studying the Gospels.

Which brings me to a topic that is very near and dear to my heart.  Jesus was the most generous individual.  He donated His entire life to the health and well-being of others.  If we are to be like Him, we must do the same.  Your father and I are always looking for ways to help others: with our time, our resources, our words.  We never say, “We have no money… We are broke…”.  That would be a grievous untruth, and inherently ungrateful.  We have experienced times of financial strain, and times of financial surplus, but we will always have more than most people in the world, and the Lord will always provide.  Trust in Him to fill your needs.  That may not look a certain way, a way that you might want it to, but He can use you in any and all situations.  

Be content.  Be at peace.  Both of these are choices. 

The ultimate way to find fulfillment in this life is to see a need and fill it.  We don’t have to expect to change the world.  Just that one person.  I hope that someone would find you worth it, if you had a need.  So also, I hope that you find others worth it.

I pray wisdom in your relationships.  That you would never be intimidated by peer pressure, and succumb to it.  That you would accept your responsibility, and leave others to accept theirs, and that you would never allow yourself to be manipulated.  This means that I wish you would never be a people-pleaser, allowing yourself to be mistreated to pacify someone else, and that you would never be cold, thinking that someone else is not worth your time.  Don’t give in to the instinct that you must be heard, and that you must be understood.  We can never take back our dealings with others, and may that instigate you to be compassionate and careful.  Don’t say something just to say it, based purely on emotion.  Let your words serve a bigger purpose, and be beneficial to all parties.

I hope that this is how you know me as you grow up.  I was recently reminded that every day that I know Jesus should see me looking more like Him.  I don’t want to become harder, and more set in my ways, the older that I get.  I know now that I do not know everything, or deserve everything.  It is my goal to keep knowing that.  If anything, the older I get the softer I should become, as I will more intimately know the endless possibilities of this world and life. 

I will read this often, dear ones, to be reminded of what I am trying to teach you.  I hope that I can raise you to be honest with me.  To be able to communicate to me if you feel that I am not hearing you, or treating you in a way that is not ministering to you.  I want to be able to love each of you in a way that will reach each of you individually. 

When I tuck you in at night I pray that you will become people of strong character.  This is not a catch-all type of prayer.  It takes great courage to believe in something in this world.  It is so easy to become careless and complacent.  It is much easier to shrug your shoulders and decide you will do what everyone else is doing, or only what you want to do.  Be warned that you can still have a successful and happy life, even if you are not holding onto convictions.  But you will not have joy, and you will not have peace, and eventually you will not even realize that you are missing these things, and you will accept that living half of the life you could be living is okay.  This is not how we were meant to go along.  We were meant to live in favor with God and man.

There is nothing wrong with having personal convictions.  People will try to make you think this.  We don’t need to validate others, or be validated in return.  It is good to listen to others, and it is always right to be respectful, and we must never judge others.  But we must also be able to say, “I disagree.  I have an opinion, and it is different than yours.”  Or even, “Don’t sell out on yourself, or on God.”  I say again, it takes great courage to believe in something in this world.  It takes strong character not to make excuses for the people we are close to. 

There are always answers.  I have spent a long time studying the Bible, and getting to know Jesus.  I pray that I spend every day doing so.  Before you let someone try and shame you into turning from your beliefs, before you find the wrong answers in the wrong places, please hear me: there are always answers.  The Bible is always right.  I have invested my life, my heart and soul, in pursuit of the evidence, and the evidence is overwhelming.  Pursue the evidence.

Why do I say pursue the evidence?  Because your heart and soul and mind will not always alignInstead of re-writing your life every time this happens, take is as it comes and cling to the truth.  Everything around us is constantly changing.  With millions of people on the planet, how could it not?  We are just one person, constantly interacting with others just as insecure as we are; it is foolishness to think that things must look a certain way, or that we must feel a certain way.  It is then that we must cling to the truth all the harder, and go back to the evidence.

Never base your life on your feelings.  It leads to desperation, and then to selfishness.  Feelings change constantly, because our stimuli is constantly changing.  Don’t hold tight to those feelings, as if they must be protected because they are yours.  Accept that our feelings are not always reality, regardless of how real they feel inside of us.  There is great release in being able to feel something and then say, “I do not accept that for my life.” 

The most hurtful people I have known are those who demanded to be treated a certain way, who sought to be heard first and agreed with, who deigned to prove points in their relationships, and who tried to rewrite natural laws to better accommodate themselves. 

Seek to be strong; seek to be healthy.

That was the greatest journey I ever embarked on.  To be a strong, healthy person because I realized that I was going to be setting the tone for your lives.  We only get one life.  We only get one chance.

What are you choosing to do with yours?

There is always a choice.  We don’t get free passes.  Excuses don’t cover us: our age, our stage, our phase, our right… Instead of focusing on others, on what they are or aren’t doing, focus on you.  Invest in you.

Always, LOVE.

 

 

 

 

 

“…In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

This is the greatest news I have ever read; the most hopeful message I have ever heard.

It is here that Jesus acknowledges the different life we will all lead: different than the one He intended for each and every one of us.  That life is troublesome.  That people are troublemakers.  That situations, and feelings, are troubling.  To all of that, He says, “I know.”  He once experienced the beauty of the perfection that He had originally designed.  He then experienced mankind’s design, and how trouble had become part of that

He acknowledges the upset of order.  The finality of the statement shows that this is how it has to be right now.  If He were to remove the trouble He would removing the troublemakers, and then it would all be over.  No more chances: for anyone to respond to Him; for anyone to do anything good; for anyone to do anything selfless.  In His grace, even in His mercy, He doesn’t want that.  Neither should we.  All day, every day, is a second chance…for everyone, everywhere.

 What an encourager the Lord is.  The best part about this passage is that He begins verse 33 before the part about ‘trouble’.  He starts by saying, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace…” 

 All throughout His Word our Heavenly Father is encouraging us.  Verses that talk about undying love, unprecedented protection, and ultimate freedom.  He wants us to be optimistic.  He is.  He wants us to be light of heart.  Sure, He knows that this world went wrong.  He sent His Son to redeem it.  He was, and still is, willing to be a part of it, even the pain.  Anyone who rejects God and His enormous goodness on loosely based accusations of injustice, invalidity, you-name-it, have nowhere to go with that pain, their pain.

He extended an offer of adoption to me, and I accepted, and regardless of how someone may treat me, or what butterfly effect I am caught up in, I can always take heart.  There are so many orphans out there, choosing to be orphans… I choose not to be one of them.

 He doesn’t tell me that He will take away my pain.  That He will make it so I never experience pain again.  We both know that is impossible.  There is no point in trying to fight something that is everything.  Stubbornness will get me nowhere.  He tells me to come to Him with my burdens, and I am happy to do so.  He tells me that He will always help me bear the weight.  I cannot pass up an offer like that.  I look all around me, and see and feel the world surrounding me, and I know that I could not possibly bear it on my own.  He tells me that I can have joy in everything, and I have finally discovered what that truly means.  It doesn’t mean that everything will be ‘a good time’.  While enjoyment is not possible in everything, joy certainly is.  The pain I have felt drives me to the feet of my Savior with a passion and intensity that takes my breath away, and there is nothing more wonderful than needing Him.  Without that pain I would not seek Him, I would not be desperate for Him to remove the weight of it before it crushes me down and I suffocate underneath it, heavy and alone.  When I feel the pressure of my emotions, the straining of my soul, I begin the race; a race against myself and everyone else.  I will always cross the finish line, and even if I don’t cross it in this life I know I will cross it in the next, because He promises that the war is already won.  It is only my job to persevere, because it is promised that I cannot lose.  And from every time that I do cross the finish line, and the tears stop flowing because there is a little less need for them, I absolutely know this to be true, and I am so joyful.  I am so hopeful for that final finish line.   

 As necessary as the trouble is, it is just as necessary to counter it with Hope and Endurance.  Don’t forget to tell your face!  I heard that explained in the most accurate way possible: sometimes Christians communicate with the right words but, unfortunately, they give off a negative vibe that speaks much louder.  The excitement of Victory doesn’t shine in their eyes, and the joy of Hope doesn’t resonate with a smile.  Those expressions should come with knowing the Lord.

Don’t forget to tell your face!

Don’t forget to tell your fellow believers’ faces!

I plagiarize here, but this person wrote it best: Are you willing to let someone critique your vibe so you can be the best you?  And if it’s hard to have your vibe critiqued, it’s got to be that much more challenging to have someone critique our faces…

The simple fact is that believing in Jesus IS hope! It is hard for me to be hopeful.  I tend towards skepticism.  I become overwhelmed by negativity when I see the magnitude of it around me.  I have felt that it is impossible to function in this [troublesome] world.  That my beautiful Christianity must be guarded from the ugliness of everything else. 

 But then I learned that I had bought into a lie.

You see: He has overcome the world.

 The battle is already won.

We linger because the Lord is merciful.  I knew that I needed to be taking my energy of paranoia and investing it in a much better way.

 I needed to accept that my troubles were not a personal vendetta against me; that they weren’t the very hand of God, or His blind eye.  They were merely the result of troubling people, a broken system, and my own bad choices.

 I needed to take God at His Word and begin each day by laying those troubles at His feet, and exchanging them for a burden of hope.  I find that this one is much easier to carry.  Who wouldn’t rather carry the same weight of incense, as opposed to the same weight of …something that smells the opposite?  You get my drift.  Some people really have no idea how very badly they smell.

But what does Hope look like?

To me, it meant accepting that maybe politicians were dictating serious decisions about my life, and my freedom, but that they didn’t dictate my day to day.  I learned that I could pay taxes while undeserving parties received that money, or that I could always follow the rules while people all around me break every last one them, endangering themselves and others, never being held accountable, but such things needn’t determine the quality of my life.  My husband could lose his job time and time again, and we could even lose our house, but it wasn’t going to be forever.  Nothing is forever. 

He has overcome the world!

I don’t need to raise my children thinking that they must be segregated.  Indeed, I must be raising them equipped to be amongst their peers, at all ages and stages of life.  I don’t want them to think that they are too precious, too angelic, to go out into this world, and that this world is polluted by heathens, instead of simply other human beings that are people just like them, all originating from the same place, and hopefully going to the same place in the end.  They need to be able to hear swear words, take a punch, look strangers in the eye…and say, “Jesus loves you.”  It is called the armor of God for a reason.  If Jesus Christ bore scars, marks on His physical body from being banged up in this troublesome world, than we should be blessed enough to also receive our wounds.

And receive them with Grace.

And counter with Hope. 

There is a thing that happens when Good is missing, and we generally call it Bad.

Bad always results in suffering, either indirect or direct, personal or projected.  And where would we be without suffering?

I think for most people this question is obsolete.  It is hard enough to just get past the word: ‘suffering’.  It is a loaded word, pregnant with hallucinogenic properties.  When we hear it, when we read it, when we think about it, there is an involuntary reaction that manifests in many different ways.   Stoicism, anger, bitterness, resolution, rebellion, sympathy… The reaction, though, is always one of mourning.  It is instant and tangible, and the spark is lit that fuels the emotion.  We immediately think of our own suffering.  We immediately think of the suffering that has fallen onto our loved ones, which in turn caused us to suffer on their behalf.  We think of Big suffering, such as the Holocaust and the Crusades.  We think of Personal suffering, such as our failed relationships, our illnesses and diseases, our sense of loss at the death of someone we were close to.  We think of how we have suffered at the hands of others, and how needless that was, and what an impact it has made on our lives.  We think of Scary suffering, which is all over the news and can happen to anyone, and which triggers a sub-suffering due to the anxiety: the ministrations of a serial killer, the school shootings, accidents as the result of negligence.

Standing alone, suffering is the ultimate injustice.  It is the truest agony.  It is the blackest hole.

I think we do not realize, though, that suffering is never alone.  If it were than it would not be suffering.  It would merely be Life; it would be total reality.  As it stands, suffering walks hand in hand with Hope; for many it is the conception of Faith (and for just as many it is the deterioration of it).  It is the precursor to Peace.  It is the forger of Love.  It is the recognition of Goodness, and it is the backbone of Compassion.

If we take the reverse journey: would we have compassion without suffering?  If we did not see the pain in someone’s eyes, if we did not watch strangers crying in their cars, if it was not depicted so dramatically in movies, would we even care at all?  I think we would continue about our daily lives with very little reason to interact on a deeper level.  Instead, we reach out to others when we are hurting; we expect them to console us, to feel it with us, to care.  And all of that is instinctual.  We must train ourselves, or be trained, to react differently.  The most regrettable thing is when there are those of us who have never experienced the caring.   If only every human being had at least one other human being to be all of these things to them…  Alas, without that one person, relationships remain two-dimensional.

If we did not suffer we would not recognize good things.  Sometimes that recognition can be out-and-out jealousy.  When we have those good things, when we are through the suffering, maybe they are not so good as we imagined they would be, or maybe they are the sweetest reward.

In everything there is balance.  That is the very law of nature, and nothing can be done about it.  We either fall deeper in love with people when we are suffering, or vice versa.  Ties are formed when the raw wounds are soothed and healed by another, and we see the power of what it means to love when someone stands by our sides at our most ugly, at our most wretched, and they help us to put ourselves back together again.  Without that suffering, which we should know by now is inevitable (why are people still so surprised when it comes?), there would not be any need for the ties.  There wouldn’t be any need for anything, really.

There would be no respect for peace at all if there was no suffering.  You might argue that naivety is peace, because there has never been any suffering, but I counter that naivety is its most basic definition:  it is simplicity, and nothing more.  To be naïve is to be inexperienced, and it is no secret that a human being must become subject to experiences in order to have life.  Peace is the sweet cloud on the other side of the opposite spectrum, and that is what makes it so delicious, and so seemingly unattainable.

Let us not forget faith, which is such a touchy subject these days.  People become so uptight when the word is used, but it doesn’t even need to be religious.  Jesus did not invent the word ‘faith’.  It is a perfect word to describe one’s belief in Him, but Faith and Jesus are not synonymous, such as Music and Rock Star are not synonymous.  You can have one without the other.  Faith is merely a confidence, it is a belief that something is true without proof (please note that I use the word Proof, and not the word Evidence, which are also not synonymous).  It takes just as much faith to be an atheist as it takes to be a believer in some religion, and that is just the honest depiction of the literal words.  I am sure any atheist would be outraged at this, and I am sure many religious believers would be indignant.  But you must believe that there is no God in order to call oneself an atheist, and that belief is based on the fact that there is no Proof.  To believe that there is a God an individual is willing to rely on the Evidence.  In association with suffering: the road of suffering always leads to decisions, and decision-making takes faith.  You can have faith that you are not a victim, or you can choose to believe that you are.  Either way is a life course, and you are making the decision to go down it.  Sometimes that faith is rooted in religion, as suffering opens our eyes to our infallibility, our vulnerability, our absolute mortality.  Sometimes that faith is completely self-reliant, and we believe that we are the only correct and trustworthy being.

Perhaps, most frighteningly, suffering is what really brings us face to face with the fact that we have no control.  You can argue the contrary, and I will allow that we actually have more control than we might think, but the truth is that we have control over ourselves and only ourselves, which is actually not the smallest control, as people tend to think, but indeed the largest.  Let us come out of the need to go global: what is one person’s control against billions?  Instead, we look at our own little worlds, and the people we come into contact with daily.  The control that we have to smile at the slow cashier, instead of hurting their feelings by being rude.  The amount of suffering that we have the capacity to inflict is unfathomable.  It jumps from person to person to person until, finally, the whole world is infected, and not just immediately, but for generations.  We have effect on people’s lives.  Only, the hard part is that we cannot control how others interact with us, and everyone else.  We can only control our reactions, and know that it will make a positive difference in the end.  It is so much better to endure the suffering than to inflict it.  It really is.   This is why respect is so important, why love is so crucial, and compassion so essential.  Strangely, some people spend their entire lives in denial that other human beings truly exist alongside them.  Or, even more horrifying, they just don’t care.

Hence, the suffering.

The compassion, the love, the peace, the goodness, the faith, the hope.

So what about hope?  If human beings, in essence, have only self-control, the most powerful and capable creatures on earth, brilliant enough to develop systems that connect every single person on the planet, rich enough to bend and mold the very earth surrounding us, and the water surrounding the earth, if these creatures have such limited control, what actually is Hope?  Hope is beauty, and it is married to Desire, and the offspring is Creativity.  Are you beginning to see that everything, even the good, is connected to suffering?

I am not a natural born optimist.  I have never been an optimist, and I always expect that optimism to me will be like peroxide to a wound.  I do not like the roller-coaster of optimism, and at times in my life I have seen hope as a great and grave weakness.  Even now, it is hard for me to decide to take action, to take control of my own personal sphere, and to hope.  What power is in hope!  It reminds me that my body is broken, and that my mind is unsafe, but that I can still get out of bed and contribute good things to my life, and good things to the lives of those that I come into contact with.  That is all I can ask; it is all I can hope for.

Three hundred sixty degrees has brought us back to suffering, and what it really means, what it is really good for, and how it pertains to God.  I think the most expected and readily applied question in regards to this topic is: why is there suffering?  And rightly so.  It is natural to ask this question, or else perhaps we do not really have an acknowledgement of the condition.

Every human being is designed for a purpose, and not everyone is willing to fulfill that purpose.  Not everyone is willing to accept that they make mistakes.  But it really does all go back to God.  He created the earth and gave man dominion.  Man decided he wanted to be like God, instead of being satisfied that he was created in God’s image.  He wanted more control than he was created to handle, and disorder came into effect.

For some reason, it is easier to get hung up on the flimsy argument of why man made a drastic choice, and whether or not God allowed the temptation and if so how could He, and that you could not expect the man to do anything differently since he didn’t know any better, and overall just how unfair it all is.  There is genuine rage at the injustice of God being omniscient, able to know everything, and how He still allowed things to progress as they did.  Why didn’t He just design it a different way?  The question causes people to turn their backs on God, to scoff at religion, to call the belief foolish and cracked.  I hasten to encourage us to remember that we are not God.  For some of us, this realization will be a relief, and the recitation of it will allow us to continue on in our lives in a more natural order, peaceful in the simple fact that the weight of the world is not on our shoulders.  For some of us, it will only fuel the fire.  These people apparently want that burden.  The real problem is not about whether or not God knows, the problem lies in the fact that we, human beings, do not know.  We just don’t.  We can go before Him for our guidance, we can study His Word for directions, and we can mingle with others of common belief to maintain clarity.  This was part of the design, and it cannot be rewritten.  Or, we can do whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want, and assume that the best has been done, the most effort has been given, and that all has no choice but to be well.

 Perhaps you have reached a level of acceptance that man made a mistake (and not God).  This is only the beginning of everything that came next, the most wonderful thing that ever happened.  And this is why I love God, and no other deity could ever measure up: He loved us so much that He wanted to save us.  No other higher power of any other belief system chose to save humankind.  Sure, they pose many options of how you can reach maturity by what you do with your life, but they did not decide to take the burden upon themselves.  They did not care about what we experience in our lives, and how much it just absolutely hurts sometimes.  They have left us to our own devices.  Not God, not His Son.  This is why Jesus Christ is awesome, and this proves His love for us.

Man chose suffering, and so suffering is on this earth.  But God designed a way to alleviate all suffering.  He understands that we still suffer while we are here, and He offers the solace that He takes our suffering into account, and that one day we will be justified, and He will bring everything to its full and natural order.  He reminds us that He suffered too, more than any other being because He bore the suffering weight of the entire world, and we bear only that of one person.

If we are honest with ourselves, we can see that the largest percentage of suffering occurs at the hands of other human beings.  This would be called “the missing good”, and it is less handsomely known as ‘sin’.  When good is missing, we allow the alternative to dictate our lives, and the largest cancer of these is selfishness.  From selfishness all fallacies are bred, and they feed on each other.  It would seem that, aside from natural disasters, disaster of all kinds is man-made.  Hunger and poverty are in direct descent of selfishness, and even now it could be eradicated in a miniscule span of time.  The problem lies in the fact that people have become quite comfortable, and have forgotten that sacrifice is to be pursued.  Sacrifice on behalf of others should be desired.  There are enough people with enough resources to relieve the pain that so many people endure every single day.  And yet the pain is not relieved.  Surely, that can not be blamed on God, for that is a choice that we each make every single day of our lives.  To sacrifice, or not.  Human trafficking:  by men, for men.  Abuse: by men, out of uncontrollable urges and unchecked delusions.  We decide every word that we say, and that word could make a positive impact, or it could cause suffering.

 Yes, there are diseases and death.  This is the most unfortunate part of the whole thing.  Death was never supposed to be.  Disease was not in the plan.  Both made their appearance upon invitation by man, and since we are descendants of men, we remain the recipients of such hazards.  Surely, there are accidents.  Sadly, we must endure a design that was not original, and is thus very, very flawed.

 I urge you not to rush to your next question:  why doesn’t God just end it all?  Undoubtedly, that will be glorious, and the concept is magnificent.  But we mustn’t allow ourselves to be naïve or, even worse, ignorant.  If God were to step in and replace the missing good, time would cease.  The cessation of time means the cessation of life and death as we know it.  The cessation of life and death means that every being will be reunited with whom they have chosen: the Good or the Bad.  This is it.  That is all there is to it.  The fact that the world continues as we know it is a mercy on behalf of God.  At any moment He could sweep away the pain and suffering, but to do that would be to sweep away the cause of the pain and suffering, and that is us, each and every one.  By allowing us to maintain our existence, He is allowing us a few more moments to realize the missing good in our lives.  He is giving us the opportunity to bring to light the missing good to others, and this only by taking example of His Son, who lived as a human being to be the perfect example.

A vast and heavy existence stretches between the span our lives.  As time passes, as the missing good grows larger and larger, the link that binds us all as humans is becoming more and more corroded.  Before long, we will be making decisions based on what the animals do, if we are not already there: how can I fill my own needs?  How can I ensure my own survival?  How can I make sure that nobody takes what is mine?  A meager and narrow existence that is.  The animal world must not be allowed to meld with that of humankind, or the suffering will become very great indeed.

     There existed a God, and the fact that He existed is good enough.

     Since He is God there is no answer as to how He came to be, since He always was.  Since He is God, and at least the notion of Him has been around much longer than any of us, that explanation will have to do.  For some it is enough, and for some it is not.  The fact is, though, that there was a God, and He was [and is] the supreme being, and He owned all space and time, and had seen fit to designate Himself a home, and He equipped that home with subjects, as all Kings have.  Those subjects are known in our mortal circle as angels, and their express purpose was to worship God, and to facilitate His purposes.

     It came to pass that the time had come for God to realize His greatest vision: the Creation of a being that would love Him.  Let it be known that the angels do not love God, and that God does not have relationships with the angels.  Perhaps this may come as a shock, but I will reiterate that the angels were there to worship God, and to do His bidding.  Besides, God is love, and the supreme being, and that is good enough for the angels.  [Sometimes it is hard for a man to recognize his purpose, and then to fulfill it.  Sometimes he just wants more; he wants to be something that he wasn't meant to be, and all manner of problems arise from that.  I think that is why the angels do not mind their position.]  They are responding to their purpose, and it fulfills them, and they feel right in it.  Except for one, and the others he recruited.  He realized that he was a divine being too, and he wanted to be worshiped.  Some may not blame this angel, as we are raised in a society that encourages to fight to the top, and to be Number One.  But the simple fact is that this angel was not designed for his passionate endeavors, and that only One being can be worshiped: the supreme being, God Himself.  This angel was outraged, and managed a small uprising, and his jealousy had him so clouded, his emotions were so large, that he thought he stood a chance against his Creator.

The greedy angel’s efforts were thwarted, and before God could create the being that would love Him, He must first dispose of the beings that reviled Him.  A space was designated that God did not touch, and what resulted was horror, and not much more can be said to add any more emphasis.  The mutinous angels were sent to that space, and to be sent out of God’s presence was to be sent out of everything, and evil was formed.  The beauty of the angels was instantly departed, since their beauty came only from God, and they had forgotten this.  The lovely beings became ugly, which is the lack of beauty, which is separateness from God.  The fallen angel, in his place of horror, waged war against all that he had lost, and against everything beautiful, which was everything besides himself and his mistaken minions.

Once rid of the evil that He could not allow in His presence, as the supreme being, God was able to designate Himself once again to His chief and crowning accomplishment: the making of man.  But first a realm must be created so that man could have dominion over it, and that he could rule his realm and that God could remain in his heavenly realm, and move freely between the two as ultimate authority.  For man was not meant to be like the angels.  He was meant to be higher than even them.  With painstaking care and breathtaking beauty, God created earth in all of its glory, and He noted that it was good.  Not a thing of His earth was tainted.  It was the perfect place, just like where He came from.  Thus came man, created in the image of God Himself, the supreme being, an honor that not even the angels shared.  God’s own breath was breathed into the lungs of the man, and the man was so in tune with God’s nature that he realized he did not have anything of his own kind to love and to love in return.  Pleased at this similarity, God then formed the woman from the body of the man, much as the man had been formed in reminiscence of His own body, and with His own physical breath, and the union between the man and the woman was the most beautiful thing on the face of the newly created earth.

      God gave the earth’s key to the man, and made him king over it, with God King over the man.  The man was encouraged to be sovereign over the other creatures on the planet, and to fully enjoy every aspect of the terrain, the vegetation, the atmosphere.  Since God is God, and we as men are not, He saw fit to give the human creatures their own free will.  It was His gift to them.  After all, His desire was the love and the relationship that they would share, and no love is achieved by force, or else it is not love.  No love can be possible without the option of not loving.

     There is much speculation in regards to the Tree of Knowledge, which God placed in the garden where the humans lived.  He told them not to eat of the fruit, and of the entire world it was the only and complete ultimatum.  Love Me, and do not eat the fruit.  Or eat the fruit and do not love Me.  Of course it was simple enough for the man and the woman to decide not to eat the fruit.  Perhaps they did not even think twice about it, for why should they?  But all was not well in the garden, as the fallen angel had access to it.  This fact has been a point of contention for human beings throughout history.   Why would the supreme being allow the fallen angel, allow evil, onto His territory?  Let us not forget that man had the key to the earth, and that man ultimately permitted trespassers on his territory.  Perhaps, if God had maintained the earth’s key, He would have never allowed the fallen angel onto the earth.  We know that the fallen angel pursued the earth because it was beautiful, and he hated anything that was beautiful since it was such a mockery of his former self.  We know that he despised goodness because he had given way to evil.  We know that he had given himself over to trying to overthrow the supreme being.  It is natural that he would make his way to the earth.  The fact of the matter is, though, that God gave the key to man, and He trusted that man would honor the original intention, or else all would be lost.  Would man be so willing to lose it all?  If he was, than what other choice did God have but to give it to him?  God’s one desire was love, and obedience is a direct relative of love.  None of it can be avoided, or it does not exist in the first place.  You may feel free to be indignant, to be disgusted at these turn of events, but your very feelings on the matter are proof that they were the right ones.  If you did not have the right to your feelings, than the entire situation would be nil anyway.

     So it came to pass that eventually the man and woman came face to face with evil, which was the form of the fallen angel, and will forever be known as the devil.  The disguise of the creature, and the pleasing words it spoke were very intriguing to the humans.  Here was a dawning of new thoughts.  Man had a moment in time.  He could decide to send the evil from him, to banish it from the face of the earth with the help of the supreme being, or he could decide to wait and see what else the creature had to say.  Alas, the man liked what the creature had to say more than that of his own Creator.  The promises of power were exactly what the devil had used to coerce his own fallen angels, the demons, and it worked on the human beings, who found that they would decide something different than what was intended.  The devil extended his palm, and asked for the key to the earth in exchange for the wonders he had to give, and the man put the key in the hands of the devil.  Of course, one might say that knowledge is power, but one could just as easily say that knowledge is a burden, for what we once know can never be unknown.

     How many times has it been said that the man was a fool, a fool!  That we would never have done the same.  However, we do what the first man did every single day of our lives.  Instead of living in trust, we live in trade.  One fathom of self for one fulfilled curiosity.  We have forgotten that our original design is to love and worship God.

     As horrified as God was to see His worst nightmare become a reality, He instantly knew that only He could save the situation.  In a giant act of mercy, He banished the man and woman from the garden where the Tree of Knowledge lived.  He moved them further onto the earth and commanded them to multiply, to work the ground, to master the beasts.  If He had left them in that garden, the story would be over.  The earth would have been lost forever, and the human race with it.  But God knew that as one man had surrendered the key, only one Man could retrieve it, and that Man could be none other than the Son of God.  The Son of God was the only being that could be trusted with the job, the only One who was capable of it at all.  He would be sent to live a human life, in a human body, and become the ultimate sacrifice.  His human form made him vulnerable to the evil influence that had completely overtaken the earth, and He must submit to the death that man had opted for, and He must go down into the place of horror to take the key from the devil himself.

     And He did all of this.  He was born as a human baby; He went through life denying evil at every turn, relying on His connection with God, the supreme being, and maintaining a perfect record.  He paved a way for all mankind by reminding them of the God who had created them, and showing them small gestures of that supreme being in the form of miracles.  He communicated to the people that He must die, and take the earth’s key and all mankind from the hand of the devil.  And after the key was put back in God’s hands, time would pass for this to sink in, and human beings could make the choice:  to believe that God had done this, to save them…or to not.

I am not real big on people’s rights.

Correction: I am not big on the rights people think that they have.

It turns out that the popular thing nowadays is to assume that feelings need to be validated by way of civil rights.

Before I get ahead of myself, I would like to clarify that I am a huge supporter of freedom.  This should be obvious based on the fact that I spent five years in the United States military.

The two concepts are not synonymous; unfortunately, they are being misconstrued as such.

To define a right is risky indeed.  The dictionary refers to a ‘right’ under the noun category as ‘a just claim or title’.  ‘Just’ being the key word there.  This means that any individual will be entitled to the same rights.  I quickly follow that up by pointing out that a claim is simply that, a ‘claim’.  It is the ability to self-identify as anyone sees fit.  It is the opportunity for anyone to say, “This is what I believe.  This is who I am.”  However, a claim is not an automatic pass to fulfill an individual’s emotional needs.  It is merely the ability to self-identify without persecution.

It is necessary to identify ‘persecution’ as ‘persistent harassment, and/or oppressive treatment’.  At risk of sounding redundant, persecution is not a component of emotion.  Just because someone claims to be persecuted doesn’t mean that persecution is actually taking place.  There are actual guidelines to persecution: namely, it is the attempt to exterminate.  Persecution is not boundaries.  The people who have established boundaries in their lives can identify with how important they are.  Without them, chaos would take over as everyone would be able to run amok.  The people that cannot identify with the importance of boundaries are usually claiming to be persecuted, when they are probably the ones committing the offense. Yes, this can be a slippery slope.  But this is also why there are boundaries; to be able to identify when actual persecution is taking place, as opposed to when an offense is being had.

Before I circulate back to the concept of boundaries, and also persecution, the issue of ‘offense’ needs to be addressed.  The problem at hand is that offense has become a ‘right’.

In actuality, offense is a choice.

People from all over the world, of all religions, of all lifestyles, become offended, and decide that their offense needs to be unoffended.  The betrayal of offense is that it only leads to another.  If it is one’s ‘right’ to be offended, it is everyone else’s to simply not care.  To insist that specific personal convictions need to be validated is an automatic disregard of others.  This is why there are boundaries.

When So-and-So becomes offended they often feel the need to publicize their offense.  This has become the simplest thing in the world to do, thanks to social media.  How many times do you see on Facebook what So-and-So believes to be offensive?  It surely conflicts with another’s viewpoints, which is probably the thrill in making such a post to begin with.  After all, this is a free country, right?  Surprisingly, the 120 characters of a Tweet are just enough to mass produce a complaint.  Texts are a shameless way to vent without needing to be face to face.

Therefore, everyone else must become offended, either on behalf of the offended, or because they disagree with the view being broadcasted.  Retaliations are made.  Retaliations to retaliations are made.  Enormous amounts of people have gotten involved, enormous amounts of energy has been expended, and sometimes it all leads to an enormous amount of money being spent, too.  This angst could have been avoided.

No, really, it could have.

It has to do with humility, and it has to do with compassion.

The fact of the matter is that people experience life differently.  They feel life differently.  They see life differently.  The destruction one can bring on others by choosing to live in a bubble can be devastating.

We can pride ourselves into thinking that we are a liberated and open-minded people.  The stark truth is that we aren’t.  There is still a protestant attitude, across the board.  It is easy to tell when an individual is fighting a battle because they think they are being daring and forward-thinking, or ‘sticking to their guns’, or even because they are just trying to belong to something, or to be liked.  Those people that refer to themselves as ‘liberal’ are actually just living a giant double standard, and back-pedaling the progress they think they are making.  It is hypocrisy at its basest to claim that individuals have a ‘right’ to believe what they want, and make decisions as they see fit, AND anyone who is in disagreement is a hypocrite.

The people clinging desperately to their ‘old-school’ standards have refused to develop as the world has developed.  I am not talking about sacrificing a moral conviction, which happens far too often. I am talking about not expecting everyone to live according to the same standards.  Personally, I am true to my core beliefs, and I am not ashamed of them, or apologetic of them.  I do not expect to be harassed because of this, and I do not harass anyone else for what their own life looks life.  I need to be the best ‘me’ that I can be, and hope that it leaves a positive impact.  We have all grown up under different cultures, religions, and guidelines, and to expect everyone to follow yours or mine is what leads to behavior that ultimately infringes on someone else’s time, space and, frankly, peace of mind.  That is what persecution is born of.  One would think that there are enough examples in history to be taken from…

Here’s a concept: we don’t all have to be in agreement.

No, we really don’t.

‘Freedom of speech’ is the ability to say what one believes in, and why, and that one disagrees with someone else if that be the case.  Freedom of speech does not grant anyone the liberty to harass anyone else, especially if someone disagrees.  I believe that we live in a world where harassment is seen as a ‘right’.  It is in movies, and music, and all over media across the world.  Everywhere, someone is badmouthing someone else because they aren’t doing something they agree with.  There is no support for docility and humility.  Everything has become a war, and therefore real war is greatly misunderstood.

It can be argued that such is the dichotomy of freedom of speech, but I disagree.  When something is destructive, it should not be ignored.  In a nutshell, it debases humanity when anyone claims that blasphemy, hate speech, and defamation are lumped in with freedom.  There is an obvious difference between saying that one does not agree with homosexual unions, and saying that (slur) are detestable and disgusting human beings.  It is just as much a gay person’s right to be gay as it is for an individual to not agree with that lifestyle. 

To recap the key points: a right is a person’s opportunity to self-identify without being persecuted; freedom is the ultimate right to disagree with someone else’s self-identity; and while harassment is never okay, people have taken to taking offense and expect the rest of the world to meet their emotional needs.

Now: boundaries.

If people can self-identify as they fit, without fear of being murdered for practicing their religion, or being run out of town for the color of their skin, or being rejected socially for their lifestyle (in so much as no one else is being harmed), than where do boundaries fit in?

After all, freedom is not telling other people what to do, right?

Actually, no.  To be quite honest, sometimes it just has to be established what can and can’t be done.

Any parent, any leader, any person of moral conviction knows that.

When we become too lenient with the definition of rights we begin to overstep onto another person’s rights, and the natural order of things begins to become confused.  Confusion leads to chaos, which is in direct violation of safety and security, which is the very core of freedom.  Through that leniency, we find ourselves disgusted with one another.  That often leads to taking action so that person, or people group, can no longer act or do or say.

Taking prayer out of schools is an act of persecution; we know this because the goal was to exterminate, which is what persecution is all about.  It is a person’s right to protect their home and property as they see fit.  It is never okay to harm another human being unless in self-defense.  [Claiming that it is a woman’s right to have an abortion automatically denies the unborn baby the right to its own life.  And when rights regarding human life and death are pushed around, you can rest assured the rest of them are up for grabs…]

I mentioned a natural order.  There is a natural order to things, and this is where civil rights make an appearance.  Civil rights are born with the individual It takes one look to determine with the naked and natural eye that someone is a woman, or that someone is Asian.  These traits are a direct and inherent result of genes, they are a code of and from nature itself; they cannot be erased, or truly altered, hard as anyone may try.  These civil rights are what keep us from owning other human beings based on their race or nationality, or from denying mutual respect based on gender.

I am not naive.  I realize that inequality in regards to matters of civil rights still exists.  People have always abused their powers, and therefore other human beings endure abuse.  The problems of civil rights have existed since the beginning of time (well, not quite the very beginning, but definitely a generation later).  It is inherent in human beings to dominate and practice selfishness.  After all, ‘self’ is the root word of selfishness.  All the same, I think the world is making enormous amounts of progress, and that progress will continue to be made, as it should.  Will true equality ever take place?  Honestly, I don’t think it will.  Someone will always be abusing their power, their position, and humanity.  Unless everyone surrenders to humility and compassion, which a lot of people really aren’t interested in because they see it as weakness, someone else will always be persecuted.

Contrary to popular belief, matters of self-identity are not matters of civil rights.  A personal opinion, or lifestyle, or choice, is a matter of self-identity.  It must be identified in order to be disclosed.  This statement will be highly offensive to many people, and it is not meant to be destructive in the least.  Recently, the claim is that homosexuals cannot change their sexual orientation any more than someone can change being born black.  At risk of sounding prejudice, that simply isn’t true.  A black person is black because they were born black.  That isn’t to say a homosexual isn’t born feeling homosexual.  I believe wholeheartedly that we are ALL born with an inclination that goes against our natural tendencies.  These are matters of the soul, which is stronger than anything of this earth.  A tug of war rages inside all of us for our entire lives: mental illness, addiction, insecurity, sexuality.

Natural order has suffered ever since human beings relinquished the natural order of the soul.  Design has been under attack since the first time it was attacked.  We are now born that way: our souls at war with our bodies.  We all have souls for a reason, and that reason is to be in communion with God.  This might be too religious for most, and I can’t argue with that.  I don’t have a non-spiritual approach to what I have just said.  I think, though, that most people can agree that they have felt their own crux of the soul.  We know how frightening, how isolating, how crazy-making it is.  Let us, therefore, be compassionate towards one another.  My crux might be different from your crux, but I can still have compassion on you.  I can still treat you with respect.

Respect is not a free pass.  There still has to be boundaries.  Natural order must still be submitted to.  If we have been granted life, then grant us life.  No human being should take the life of another, in part or in whole.  Marriage must be defined as the union between a man and a woman, before things get out of control. If it is redefined, one day, everyone will be able to marry everyone.  If that isn’t unsettling in its plainest of language there is no point in elaborating as to why it could be genuinely unwholesome.

I agree that this is hard.  As necessary as they are, boundaries can be uncomfortable.  Not everyone will always agree with where they are placed.

For a long time I have been of the opinion that you simply can’t tell people what to do.  I could never quite wrap my mind around that.  I could never quite understand why it didn’t fit right.  Because if you can’t tell someone what to do, you can’t tell someone what to do.  You then cannot expect people to be accountable for any of their actions, or be responsible for their choices.

You can’t insist that substances not be abused.

You can’t insist that people don’t drive under the influence.

You can’t protect children.

You can’t protect human life at all.

What I’ve said isn’t even extreme.  I have started at a very simple point: it is a matter of choice as to whether or not someone wants to abuse a substance.  But if you allow the abuse of a substance, you risk the harmful actions against others that could follow (i.e. drunk-driving).  If you negate the seriousness of harming others, you can’t protect those who can’t protect themselves, and then the very component of life, life itself, comes under attack.

Think: post-apocalyptic.  Think Water World, The Book of Eli.  Everyone is pretty much just doing what they want, because they can.

I am sorry that restrictions might be applied to some people more than others, or so it would seem.  I must stand by the need for boundaries.  Boundaries are not synonymous with persecution, regardless of what it feels like.

Perhaps I am being scoffed at: after all, I am so privileged.  I am married to a man, therefore I have never felt the sting of said boundaries.  I am a white woman, therefore I have never felt the sting of persecution.  Of course, I would disagree with that.  I know where and when I have been persecuted.  I know, as a practicing Christian, that my country has turned its back on my religion.  Suddenly, the attitude is freedom FROM religion, not freedom OF religion.  But getting into all of that is moot.

I felt a rising inside of me that needed to be released.  I felt the need to identify with all of mankind.  I felt a compulsion.  These words were born of that.

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