Tag Archive | faith

Thoughts on Suffering

Today I got to spend the day with a woman who has been used greatly in my family.  Decades ago she became one of my grandmother’s very best friends.  When my grandmother passed away, she was there, standing in the gap.  She and my own mother grew closer and I knew she was like a surrogate mom for my mother.  A godmother.  Since my mom passed away, she has been faithful in sending me cards and pictures and other tokens of her affections.  Always reverencing their love for me (my mother and grandmother), reminding me of what I struggle so often to remember.

That I am loved.

me and linda

Today she spoke about her battle with breast cancer.  She has in fact battled this disease three times.  She was honest in her speech, sharing that yes, emotionally she struggled with this 3rd diagnosis.

“Lord, again?  Haven’t I already been through this?  Haven’t I already passed the test?”

This resonated with me greatly, as I thought about my own journey in waiting, and relationships, and surrender.

“Lord, haven’t I already passed this test?” I’ve wondered so often.

But His answer to her may not be the answer you hear in the pulpit, or online, or at a popular mega church, because it’s not a popular message.

It’s a message of the cross.

“Yes daughter,” He says to her.  “But I got you!  I got you!” 

I am discovering that one can experience and overcome various tests, trials and tribulations.  Even in the same area.  They can have those experiences and keep going through them.  Again, and again, and even again.

We see this in the Bible.  What does God say to Paul when he asks to have the thorn removed from him three times?

“Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”  (2 Cor 12:8)

And even with Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, crying out to the Father to remove His cup.

“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, ‘Sit here while I go and pray over there.’ And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.  He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.’ (Matt 26:36-39).

I can’t imagine the depth of sorrow Christ felt to ask to be removed from this experience of physical suffering.  I can only imagine it must have been so great because He also knew all the world would be saved through it, and yet it was so painful that He  still did not want to experience it.

And in both cases (Paul and Christ’s) God basically said, “My will is for you to suffer.”

We do not like suffering.  Our flesh hates it.  Whether it is physical, emotional or mental.  When we are hungry we want food.  When we are tired we want sleep.  When we have to use the restroom we find the nearest toilet.  We do not like being uncomfortable.  And suffering is, in my opinion, the worst kind of uncomfortable.

But suffering in the kingdom, is highly regarded.  We cannot get away from that fact, and any gospel that is preached without the teaching of suffering is erroneous.

2 Timothy 2: “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him…

One of my struggles in this season is not the teaching of suffering.  I think I understood that early on in my faith, that I would need to do hard things for Him.  That I would need to lay down my life.  But I didn’t know about long suffering.  I didn’t know about the lengths and depths that He could call one to.  I didn’t know that He could call you over and over (and even over) again to experience difficult circumstances.  And I didn’t know He could give you power to sustain you through it.

I got to speak with some women today who are related to my grandmother’s friend.  They too are in seasons of recovery from loss, grief and trauma.  They too are overcoming things they never imagined they would go through.  And I can see the changes.  I can see there is more humility, there is more kindness.  Our hearts are tender now…

Suffering changes you.  But if you know Him, it can change you for the good.  He can work it for the good…

When Paul cries out to have his thorn removed, we find out why God said ‘no’.

“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure (2 Cor 12:7).

He was humbled through this thorn.  He was sustained by His grace.

I realize the Father has been after something in me in this season.  Something that I didn’t know was there.  It was distrust.

I have known that the way I have related to the Father has always been intimate and passionate, zealous and possessive  (on both sides).  Yes, I have loved Him.  But I have consistently struggled with trusting Him.

Looking back on my journey, I would trust Him to a certain extent.  And with my singleness I would only trust Him up until a certain number of years (we have passed that number of years by the way).  Of course, consciously I was not aware I was doing this.  But He knew.

At the service today my friend Linda testified about her “thorn”.  She testified that the Father would not remove it, but that He would keep her through it.  She also testified that she would worship anyway.

Wow.  To worship Him anyway.  Even after the third time.  That is the faith He is after.  That is the call for His chosen.

I am grateful that even in my pain and grief and anger, He has never changed.  His love and loyalty are steady and even though I don’t experience the high feelings of emotions I did all those years in my journey, I sense His love as strongly as I used to.

And for the first time, in such a long time, I trust Him.

I trust Him like I used to.  I trust Him like I did as a babe.  I trust Him like before the tests and trials.  Before the losses and setbacks.  Before the confusion over my identity.  I trust Him.  Because now I can see (as I have in the past but forgot) that He really is for me.  That His choices really are in my best interest.  Especially when it comes to relationships.

He protects me.  Like a good father does His child.

I am His.

What I know now, that I didn’t know earlier in my faith, was that His way somehow feels/is harder and at the same time protects.  I also did not know that His way does not negate (long) suffering.  That though He is for me, pain is inevitable.  And in life pain is inevitable. But at-least with Him it can be used for our good.

Because in order to reign with Him we must suffer.

That is the cross.  That is being a disciple.  That is being His.

SHALOM

 

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Walking Together

ECCLESIASTES‬ ‭4:9-10‬ ‭AMP‬‬

“Two are better than one because they have a more satisfying return for their labor; for if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and does not have another to lift him up.”

Over a year ago I watched my friend minister to her mother.  She hovered over her hospital bed, fed her with spoonfulls and played sermons from her favorite preacher online.  They prayed together and she tended to her every want and need.  I watched from my side of the hospital room in awe, knowing their history, knowing God was teaching me something.

He was teaching me forgiveness.

I knew in my heart that at that point in my life, I could not do what she was doing.  I could not tend to my own mother with such care and intimacy.  I had too much pain in my heart.  Little did I know, I would actually experience the loss of my mother before she would lose her own.  While my friend was in a long-term care situation, my experience was sudden and unexpected.  Yes, my mother had been sick for a long time, but that was nothing new.  She had been around for the last 20 years with her illness, why would I expect her not to be around for 20 more?

This weekend was my friend’s first Mother’s Day without her mom.  It was on my heart to spend the weekend with her.  I really only had 8 months under my belt of walking this unique path before her, but that seemed to be enough for Holy Spirit.  Indeed He had used me to walk with her last year through this experience, while I myself was still grieving.

I myself am still grieving.

But we made it through.  We attended a women’s event that talked about friendship and sisterhood and God’s intent for both.  We dialogued about our mothers and how we were continuing their legacies.  I was in awe to see how many similarities we had with our journeys.  In so many ways we were experiencing the exact same path.

She had a list of what she wanted to do and I strived to make those things happen.  Good food, good movies, good company.  I only had one thing on my heart and that was a 90’s R&B throwback concert from a group I grew up enjoying.  I knew that if my mom were here, that’s what we would have done.

So that’s what we did.

I’ll be honest and say I cringed every time I heard those words, “Happy Mother’s Day!”.  I was annoyed every time I saw others posting their pictures of their happy families that were so full and overflowing.

There was no way around it, their cups were overflowing in an area where mine ran dry.

We made the best of what we had.  While at the concert the group we saw talked about family and having your family here with you.  Well, my friend and I had unique situations with our families.  I placed my hands on the women beside me.  They were now my family.

This season has been eye opening on many levels.  I have learned not to be presumptuous with God (a continuous lesson).  I have learned that the borders to His way are much farther out then I would have dreamed.  He does things in the way He chooses.  Especially with His chosen.

While at the church service we went to yesterday a young mother and wife shared her heart about what God was teaching her in this season of motherhood.  She had devastating events happen with her children and was wrestling with fears and insecurities and hurt.  But in the midst of those circumstances she was learning joy in the journey.  That was exactly what He has been teaching me.

Joy in the journey.

I realize He can teach His children the same lesson while walking through extremely different circumstances.  We can feel the same pain, the same loss, even though we do not have the same journey.  We are individually made and need different things to grow.  My heart is now tender towards those who experience suffering and pain from whatever source of devastation in this world.  Indeed, there seem to be so many sources.

While standing there yesterday at the church service, I marveled at God.  He walked me to this place in my journey I never thought He would allow.  My friend felt the same.  He walked us to this place and we were in shock.  Had we not been faithful?  Had we not been promised to reap?  But instead we were called to continue being pruned.  To experience what some will never experience.  At least in this area.

I worshipped at the service.  My friend did too.  We worshipped our way through the service celebrating mothers.  And when the worship leader asked only the mothers to sing, I listened for my own.  I know she is in the eternals, cheering me on.  I know she is more alive than I am at this time, and I know she is singing over me, joining all the mothers, singing over their daughters.  I had to believe that in that moment, because I did not have her to experience it in the natural.

I realize I am healing now.  There is no way I could have raised my hands the way I did at the service a year ago or even a month ago.  I would have been too afraid.  How could I open my heart to surrender all when now I know more of what the cost entails?  But I was able to.  And it is because I am healing.

He did not do things at all the way I expected.  He did things His way.  He provided family His way.  He gave provision His way.

My heart still longs for those promises He gave years ago.  It still desires what I see so many around me receiving.  But I am realizing what I have been being taught for so many years now.

I am an eternal being.

I am a citizen of heaven.

This is not my home.

But one day I will be home.  One day I will experience the fulfillment of all I desire, all that He promised.

And that has to be enough.

He has to be enough.

SHALOM

 

I Wish That God Would (Just) Say Yes

There are memories now. They catch me off guard when they make their way from subconscious to consciousness. From the recesses and dark crevices of my mind. From back then to now as if now were  just minutes from then, instead of years.

The memories consist of her and I, always alone. And though the situations and circumstances change, the thing that stays the same is my longing for more.

I remember we were at someone’s wedding reception. It was one of her friend’s kid’s. We had been to so many it’s hard for me to remember who’s what we went to. But I do remember we were there, and how much I wanted my own.

I was 27 then, around the age where elders told me I was an old maid, but when the average of my generation were just pairing up. Marrying off and settling down to have their children. Apparently millennials were waiting longer to get married.

Still, I’m pretty sure they didn’t wait this long.

At this particular gathering we had a good time. We put on those silly costumes and masks and dressed up for the photo booths so many people have at these parties. We were mother and daughter and this was a moment of bonding. It wasn’t easy back then, celebrating for others when my own desire nawed relentlessly from the inside, but I did it. Because I had hope.

I remember sitting by her side, at the park, discussing our future. Or rather my future. It was unsaid that mine was really hers and that she would be there when our dreams were fulfilled. My dreams were her dreams so I think it’s safe to say they were ours. We sat there and talked about my grandma and I felt the pain of there just being us 2. I thought nothing could be worse then there just being us 2.

I was wrong.

I read C.S Lewis’, “A Grief Observed” recently. I read it within 2 days. I highlighted every other page, text messaged my friends the parts that resonated and then gifted my pastor her own copy.  She is grieving too.

I was so in awe of Lewis’ transparency. I couldn’t believe a theologian scholar could be so in touch with his emotions, and that he could adequately express exactly how I feel in this season. (To me) It’s like he’s swinging at God, taking punches. The religious mind would be horrified at such a picture but I think once a level of suffering is experienced, one understands that God Himself gets it, allows it, and just dodges the swings.

A flood of questions have come to my mind since I stopped running. They take turns pouring out like the memories that push themselves to the front of my mind. Mostly they start with, “Why”.

Why did You do it this way?

Why did you take Your presence away when I would need it most?

Why could you not have just said ‘yes’?

I’ve been on this journey long enough to know He is not entitled to us.  He does not have to answer to us. But sometimes, He wants to. Sometimes (and in my case, most times) He responds because we are in relationship together. So I keep asking the questions even though I don’t have many answers. Still, I think apart of Him (and maybe all of Him) is happy I have made this step.

Now atleast we are talking and I am not running.

At least not as fast.

SHALOM

Filling Her Shoes

I was raised in a 2-parent household.  But not in the traditional sense.  Instead of a mom and dad I had a mom and grandmother, whom I fondly referred to as “gramma”.

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When I think back on my childhood, it consisted of these two women.  We moved away from extended family when I was young so they were all I had.

Things weren’t easy, but I never went without.  Birthdays and Christmas were always a big deal.  I woke up early, excited to open the things I had written down on my Christmas list.  And things that I hadn’t.  Meals were always provided for, even if I qualified for “free lunch” at school because of our income.  Good night’s sleep were had, even if my mom and I shared a bunk bed and a room.  They made sure to keep me out of inner city schools even if I had to catch a few city buses to get to the suburban school, or lie about my address.  We did what we had to do.

My mom and I had our ups and downs and my grandmother prayed vehemently for us to stay in the ups.  Sometime around her own passing, I can see, God started answering her prayers.  He filled the gaps.  He started a plan of restoration and healing and love.  There was always love there but sometimes it was hard for me to see it in the midst of the brokenness.

My most fondest memories are towards the end.  The three months He gave us when the brokenness was healed.  The humility and redemption and love.  Now I could see the love from her shining so brightly.  Every time I came home and she greeted me at the door, wanting to hear about my day.  The grief she held when I was being persecuted by my employer.  It was like they were persecuting her too.  Her presence at the hospital when I had surgery, never leaving my side.  The safety I felt, sitting next to her in Bible study, learning the Word together, sharing the gospel.  Sitting between her legs as she braided my hair, like she did when I was a kid.  Playing pool together and her rooting for me to win.

Her, always rooting for me to win.

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Those are the things I didn’t know I would miss.  I only thought about the things I wouldn’t.  You can never anticipate the loss.

My one friend asked, “How can anyone fill her shoes?  How can anyone, when she was your biggest supporter?  Your most faithful ride or die?”  I understood what she was saying, but I thought about it and knew the answer.  “You are right, there is no one person who can fill them.  But that is why the Father gave me so many people to fill them.  He gave me one to sew my clothes like she did because I can’t sew for the life of me (and have no desire to learn).  He gave me another whom I have viewed as a mother figure for the last 12 years.  He gave me sisters while my own refused to speak to me.  And of course He became Father, when my own abandoned me at 2 years old.

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But the truth is her shoes have been so great to fill and I have battled this last year with that fact.  I didn’t know how her passing would affect me.  I thought I could bounce back or be strong or pull myself up by the bootstraps like I had so many times before with different hard things.

Instead I have ran from the pain.  I have self medicated.  I have retreated in isolation instead of choosing to trust the One who has never let me down. 

I have felt let down.

Anger has been a constant companion, but I know that is only a mask for the pain.

There have been so many days I have felt alone.  Not just because I am single with no immediate family, but because His presence has been so far away.

I remember standing at the grave site, before they buried her.  I stood at my grandmother’s grave for the first time since her passing.  I never had a desire to go because I knew her spirit wasn’t there, but now, there is where I needed to remember.  I stood there and wept and so many women stood over me.  They held me and wept too.  My loss was there loss.  This was how He was now manifesting His presence.  Through them.

It is now one year later and I didn’t grieve the way I would have liked to.  I wanted to check off my checklist with my healing process. But some things are too great to be neatly categorized onto a list.

Today I will meet with the women who have been family to me.  Being with them is life and love and comfort.  We will have French-pressed coffee and share our hearts.  I will have my first counseling appointment for the first time this year and I will take a road trip with a woman who has been relentlessly by my side these past 18 months.

We will meet other women, one blood related, one not, but both who love me dearly.

As difficult as this last season has been, I am grateful for the people.  They avail themselves and restructure their lives just to be what I need.

They are love with skin on.

And even though the nature of our relationship has changed, E is there too.  Being what I need him to be in this season.  Rooting me on to heal.

I have to remind myself my mother chose to leave.  She was sick and she didn’t want to put me through the experience of longsuffering as a caregiver that she went through.  She also knew the people that I had in my life.  That I would be ok because of them.

There are times that I am alone and that is apart of my story.  But there are so many times where I don’t have to be.  For that I am grateful.

And I know, that even though I can’t sense Him, feel Him, the way I used to, He is there.

Always there.

Rooting me on.

And so is she.

 

SHALOM

 

Chess Moves

I’ve been playing chess off and on for 15 years now. I remember in high school a coworker at an after school job taught me the game. He was 30+ my senior. I won after the first game. I started playing online at college and my then boyfriend and I enjoyed playing with his glass-piece set. Those were good times.

The cool thing about chess is that the harder your opponent, the greater the opportunity you have to improve.

I played with a friend one summer and every time I beat him. Every time. It may seem odd but I realized then that it wasn’t fun winning all the time. I realized it was because I wasn’t being challenged. Not everyone enjoys a challenge but I definitely do.

Now I play with Emmanuel and have finally met my match. He wins most of the time. And while there’s a part of me that hates to lose, there’s a greater part that strives to win. I have become a better chess player playing with him. I’ve started learning how he thinks. One sure way to beat your opponent is to out think them.

Yesterday at fellowship I was thinking about chess. And I was thinking about how we are all like different pieces on the chess board. Each piece has its own way of moving and not every piece can do what the other pieces do. For instance, a knight can only move in an “L” shape while a rook can only move horizontal and vertical. I was thinking how I felt limited in my movements in life. There are certain boundaries the Father has placed and I have struggled against them. I have looked around and compared and have been frustrated, feeling confined while others appear free.

Within moments of me having these thoughts the prophetic came. I was told that I am a jewel to the Father and that I cannot do what others do. I have questioned Him on this and He is saying they are the boundaries placed because I am the standard. All of this was confirmed in my heart, but still I have been frustrated. The call has seemed too great. The standard too high. How can I be the standard in my place of weakness?

But even now I am reminded that when we are weak, He is strong.

I shared these things with Emmanuel. I told him about the chess pieces and feeling like a knight, limited in my movements. He looked at me lovingly and with care. “You are right that there are only certain moves you can make, even the Queen cannot do what a knight can do. But really you are not a knight, but a queen”.

I was blessed by his affirmation though I fought to deny it. Sometimes it’s easier to minimize our role when the road gets so tough. But I remember the Father giving me the same word 2 years ago when I needed it so I knew it rang true.

And really we are all Kings and Queens in His kingdom.

SHALOM

Kingdom Business

I’ve always known I would one day start my own business.  I just didn’t know when or even what it would be but it was something that stayed in the back of my mind as a “one day” thing.  Then “one day came”.  After my fourth season of unemployment and about 9 months of waiting, it came.

I’d like to say I “waited well” but the truth is I dragged my feet.  I kicked and screamed.  During the course of applying and interviewing and resume-updating, I resisted His nudging to move forward in creating an LLC. Until finally all of my options were none and I could no longer resist His nudge.

I took the steps but still in my heart wondered if He could really be leading me to do this thing full time?  Certainly not!  Everyone knows entrepreneurship takes a while to reap a profit when getting started!  Clearly God knows this as well! So of course I need to be trying to find something to supplement this vision?  But circumstances said otherwise…

During the time of my unemployment (before I got my first client) a dear friend of mine lost her mother.  I was the only friend who could be there for her physically because a work schedule was not an issue.  It was of course significant for me to be the one walking with her through a difficult time because I myself am still in recovery of my own difficult time.  I was with her when I found out my client had hired me.  We stood in the middle of the craft store and I cried tears of joy as she embraced me in her arms.  It wasn’t until I received that offer did other offers from other companies come through.  They came flooding in.

For several months the doors were closed.  Now they were swinging open.

Initially I took an offer but realized it would take away from building my own business.  I would actually be getting paid more working for myself and logically it made no sense to reduce the hours for my client.  By faith, I declined it.  And by faith I started building for my client a system that I hoped would meet her needs.

The beauty in not only seeing the fruit from this step of faith to be a small business owner is that my first client came through a woman who has had so much purpose in my life.  First a blog follower, then a roommate, then a friend, and now a sister.  Working side by side with her shows me the Father’s love and care.

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His provision is consistent in every area.

I have struggled so much in my career and yet never have I went without.  Often I have felt the “downtimes” were too long.  The seasons of unemployment.  The constant feelings of rejection when hearing “no” and facing closed doors.  Even when knowing it is for the best, it still hurts.  Now I can look back and see HIs perfect timing.  9 months living with my friend/now sister.  9 months living with the woman who loved me more than life itself.  And 9 months of “rest” and recovery before my business began.

He cares.

And I’m honored to be continuing the legacy of the women who made me who I am today in a field that was once my weakness and is now His strength.

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I am grateful for ABN Bookkeeping LLC.

SHALOM

Panera

I stood in one of my favorite places.  Panera.  Not sure why but I’ve always found comfort in its wooden booths, warm fire place, and doughy aromas.  At least, I have since grad school.  This particular location was truly a reminder of my time in school because it was the very one I often visited near the campus.

I stood there and had flashbacks of working diligently, pouring over debits and credits for hours on end, and drinking lattes to stay energized.  So many hours and months and years, working towards a goal I would eventually achieve: my MBA in Accounting.  But while I was driven and excited and encouraged at this endeavor, I still felt the longing of a single soul awaiting companionship. 

The longing burned within me.

No matter what I did to ignore it, it lingered.  I thought about this and how many years have passed.  On that day at Panera I didn’t feel the intense, burning, longing that I felt in my 20s, and even in my early 30s, but I still felt…alone.

I liken my desire for a romantic relationship to fasting.  When first starting a fast the hunger of food feels overwhelming and the task nearly impossible.  Yet as time goes on the desire simmers.  It’s still there, but it feels “dulled”.

With fasting, you learn how to be full off less.

The stomach shrinks and with it so does your mindset.  As a friend once told me when not having enough for a meal, “Well, there’s always water.” She said this because she has experienced several 21-day “liquid only” fasts.

Water becomes enough.

Memory after memory visited me as I waited for my order.  The painful ones.  The hard ones.  I thought about how time had moved but my circumstances had not.  I also thought about the guy I had met recently.  We were in the early stages of getting to know each other and I had not yet received a phone call.  I started debating on initiating the call but decided against it.  That just wasn’t me.  Within moments I felt my phone vibrate.  It was him.

We talked that night for the first time.  I sat and ate my food while looking out the window and being very much aware of the Father’s provision.  I had reached a place of understanding that we do not always get what we desire in this life.  We are not promised that.  I understood self denial and waiting and humbling one’s self for the sake of the kingdom.  In fact, I am still learning those lessons.  However I think there are new lessons He is teaching me, hence He is moving in a new way.  Because in that moment, while sitting in Panera, looking out the window and having the first of many to come conversations with a man who has great purpose in my life, I knew the Lord was saying, “See Nicole, your circumstances are changing.”

And more importantly, “Nicole, you are not alone”.

To prove it He brought me, Emmanuel…

SHALOM