Thursday, December 13, 2018

Thankfulness and preparation

Cooking makes me happy. Wow. There. I’ve admitted it.

If you’ve known me for a long time, you’re probably wondering what happened to me. If you’ve just met me and have seen all those food pictures that I post on Facebook, you’re probably wondering what the big deal is. Historically, I haven’t been a domestic person at all. I never really learned how to cook well because I’ve never really HAD to cook very much until last year. For the most part, I can’t afford to go out, eat out, or get takeout. So, the very idea of me cooking is kind of necessity... and kind of a miracle.

Interestingly, a few years ago I started watching Food Network shows as entertainment (because that kind of TV doesn’t make me stumble). I like to watch people teach other people how to do things (because I was raised by a teacher), and I like reality shows (because, as any therapist would tell you, I’m addicted to turmoil). Watching Food Network shows turned into watching other cooking videos on YouTube, and before I realized what was happening, I was almost becoming a foodie. (Almost, but not quite, as far as I can tell.)


Ever since I started going through my financial rough patch, very generous friends have been giving me food... which activated my natural curiosity... which was fueled by watching all those episodes of Chopped and MasterChef UK... which led to me researching recipes online (oh, my gosh, you can find almost anything on the internet)... which led to me cooking things like chicken pasta... while making my own alfredo sauce out of cream cheese (its texture is kind of like a TV dinner that’s been sitting out too long, but it’s not bad). Hmm. I wonder if I could make enchilada sauce taste good with spaghetti? (By the way, if you’ve given me food, THANK YOU!)

 

Oh, and I deep-fry my own tortilla chips now. That’s what happens when you’re out of chips but you have plenty of corn tortillas and oil. And they were awesome to snack on while I typed this.

So, cooking makes me happy. I used to hate cooking because I didn’t see the point of spending hours on a meal that only took a few minutes to eat... and forever to clean up. But I don’t hate it anymore. (I’ve even heard myself talking to my food while I cook it... cuz I’m like that.) I think I get it now. The joy is in the preparation.

You didn’t think this entire post would be about food, did you?

“For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills... If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all its fullness... Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” (Psalm 50:10, 12, 14-15)

A few months ago, I had a counseling appointment at my church. The nice lady I spoke with said that she felt like God wanted me to cultivate a thankful heart. (I was reminded later of a time several years ago when I asked for prayer at church; the nice man who prayed for me said that God wanted me to be “thankful for the weirdness” of my job at the time.) So, I’ve tried to be intentionally thankful about pretty much everything. If things were lousy at work, I was thankful to at least have something to do for eight hours. I was thankful for a paycheck. I was thankful that God brought me out here and was taking care of me.

I think I understand one reason why. At my current job, my coworkers complain. A lot. About EVERYTHING. (Gosh. Is that what I sound like when I’m having a hard time with something?) I believe one way to combat that kind of negativity is to “walk in the opposite spirit,” as we charismatics would say. In other words, instead of joining in and complaining with everybody else, I can do the opposite and just be thankful. (One of my coworkers complained about me saying “thank you” too often. Heh.)

From what I understand, Psalm 50 says that God is very serious about thankfulness. He doesn’t seem to care much about any religious sacrifices that we could make. The sacrifices He cares about are thankfulness, following through on any promises that we make to Him, crying out to Him when we’re in trouble, and glorifying Him. He wants to be respected as a Daddy who takes care of us... as a Father who’s more than powerful enough to take care of us when we need Him.

In other words, He wants us to acknowledge that He is God.

So, I’ve been trying to follow that pretty cool prayer model that’s laid out in Psalm 50: Thank You, You own all the money in the world, I’m in trouble, please help Me. My income has been cut drastically in the past month in a half, but God provided a way for me to pay this month’s rent and next month’s rent. And He miraculously provided me with $10,000 to go back to school.

Yes, you read that correctly. In case you haven’t heard yet, an anonymous donor gave extremely generously to my school account. (By the way, if that was you, THANK YOU!) My bill for the spring semester is covered, and I think most of the fall semester will be covered as well. Maybe I could try summer school, too. But I don’t want to think too far ahead.

I’m still learning how to take things one day at a time. That kind of living requires a lot of trusting in God. And He’s taking extremely good care of me. (And hopefully I can use my big mouth to glorify Him instead of getting myself in trouble.)

Today after I learned that they’re cutting back our hours at work, I felt like God told me, “Aren’t you glad you’re going back to school?” Heh. Most definitely. I’m thankful for those jobs I’ve had in the past where management had to make some cutbacks, because I learned how to walk in peace in the midst of it (and it was an awkward learning process).

Speaking of school, I can barely begin to tell you how excited I am about finally getting to prepare to become a worship pastor. (If you’ve read my blog for the past few years, you’ve probably read all about my dream.) I’m not exactly sure what God has up His sleeve, but I know it’s pretty awesome. And He has an extremely awesome sleeve.

There are a ton of unknown variables up ahead, but I don’t need to know everything. I just need to keep trusting the One who DOES know everything. And I know that there’s joy in the preparation.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Restored

Last weekend, I was looking for something fun to do by myself, so I dug an old jigsaw puzzle out of my closet. I picked that particular puzzle because it was small and seemed easy. Nope. It actually turned out to be pretty complicated due to the colors and patterns being similar and -- not to mention -- due to one of the pieces being broken. I was running out of time that particular day, so I put it away so I could finish it later.

This morning, I was spending some time with God and felt like He told me to resume working on the puzzle -- that He and I could work on it together. OH, MY GOSH, IT WENT SO MUCH FASTER WITH HIM HELPING ME. I didn’t have to manipulate any of the pieces to fit; the ones that fit did so quickly, snugly, and obviously. I think we were done in about 15 or 20 minutes.

It’s cool how God will make life fit together the right way if we let Him.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’ve been struggling financially and that I’ve been looking for work again and thinking through what to do next. I think I’ve found a few answers. (Although there are plenty of answers that I don’t really need to know yet.) I applied to go back to school part-time, I got accepted, and lately I’ve been in the process of looking for work that would let me go to school and let me follow through on my current responsibilities.

I would like to offer a disclaimer on what I’m about to say. Please understand that I’m not trying to dishonor, disrespect, or slander anybody. I’m just trying to tell my story.

In 1994, I graduated from high school and went away to college. I didn’t have a perfect experience, but overall I had the time of my life there. What enabled me to attend college was the fact that I had a four-year tuition scholarship, and what helped was 15 hours of AP credit that I had earned in high school. I was a semester ahead of most of my peers, and I was even taking honors classes and preparing to write a thesis.

Then one day, Dad asked me if there was any way possible that I could graduate a semester early because the longer I was in school, the more money it would cost him and Mom. Frankly, since my tuition was already paid for, and since I had financial aid and had been working during the summers and holidays, it really wasn’t costing my parents much to send me to college.

But what could I do? I agreed to graduate a semester early. I forfeited a semester’s worth of my tuition scholarship, I pulled out of the honors program, and I didn’t get to graduate with my class. But I did get to graduate with some new friends who were finishing school in 4 1/2 or 5 1/2 years. I graduated after 3 1/2 years, and I was 21 years old.

Fast forward to recently, maybe about two weeks ago: I was praying about my life (which has kind of taken over my prayer time in recent years), and I felt like God told me something important. I’ve been struggling financially because I haven’t been able to find a job in my degree field or some steady freelance work. I was wondering if maybe I’ve been doing something wrong -- if maybe I’ve been missing something. So, while I was praying, I felt like God showed me that all of this struggle hasn’t been happening because I’m a loser. It’s been happening because He’s restoring SCHOOL back to me.

I graduated a semester early -- in December 1997, when I was 21 years old. I didn’t get to go back to school in January 1998. Now I’m going to go back to school in January 2019 -- 21 years later, when I’m 42 years old. I think the reason why I haven’t been able to make it work financially is because God has restored me to that same state that I was in when I was 21. I was penniless then, and I’m penniless now. I was a starving artist then, and I’m a starving artist now. I was youthful then, and I’m youthful now.

“... who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:5)



I really believe that God has restored my youth. I look in the mirror, and I see that little kid staring back at me. (I took this photo a few weeks ago in a parking garage right before a job interview.) I even weigh a little bit less than I did when I was 21. People ask me how old I am, and they’re shocked when I tell them that I’m 42. People have told me that I look like a college student.

But hopefully I’m wiser than I was half my lifetime ago. Hopefully I’ve worked through a good deal of bitterness that tends to grow on you like barnacles after the ocean of life slaps you around a few times. And hopefully I’ve let God restore some of my innocence.

I’ve gotten kind of tired of starting over in life (because I’ve done it multiple times), but I’m very glad and very thankful that I get to do so again. Because I know why now. In this old blog post, I mentioned how I’ve been keeping one of my shelves empty for school books. It looks like I’m going to get to fill that shelf now.

Do I know exactly how it’s going to happen? No, of course not. I don’t know what tomorrow’s going to look like. I don’t even know how I’m going to pay for it. But do I need to? Why can’t I just trust God -- especially if He asks me to?

Last week, I started a seasonal job part-time at a retail store. I’m on a team that unloads and unpacks the merchandise and puts it on display before the store opens. One night, as I was unpacking strands of Christmas tree garland, I was told that I needed to be careful with it. It was made of glass, and it could break. So, I unrolled each strand carefully. Once I got the hang of it, I unrolled the strands not-so-carefully; they got tangled, and while I was untangling them, I broke one.

God showed me that our issues are like a carefully packed box of glass garland. Sometimes I wonder why He won’t show me all of my issues all at once so that I can just work through them and move on with my life. I mean, if I have codependence, jealousy, lust, religiosity, depression, or laziness all wrapped inside me, why leave it there? Why not just unravel all of that crap and get it over with? Why does God insist on working through just a little bit at a time???

Well, in my zeal to untangle it all, I could end up breaking something that doesn’t need to get broken. I could get hurt, or I could end up hurting somebody. God is the One who carefully unpacks the next strand that needs to get worked on. He makes sure that each piece gets the attention that it needs, and He makes sure that I become whole... and it’s a process. Yes, of course He could just wave a magic wand and POOF! all of my issues could just suddenly go away.

But why would He? What kind of relationship would I have with Him? I think maybe I’ll get to know Him better if He and I will simply unravel the strands together and talk about them, and I’ll learn from them. And if any of the strands are broken, He can restore them. I can trust Him to do that.

At the beginning of this post, I showed you a photo of a jigsaw puzzle in progress. But I didn’t show you the finished product. And that’s OK. Do you trust me?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Identity, grief, and certainty

Happy October 31st! I had originally planned to take an ultra-cool selfie with my mustached feline roommate, but unfortunately she did not participate because she is very easily spooked, regardless of the holiday. (I don’t think my toy plastic mustache freaked her out; I think my frustrated grunt with the awkward way I was holding my phone is what made her scurry out of the room during selfie time.)

Selfies are an interesting phenomenon in our culture. They’re everywhere. I even saw the receptionist at the employment agency that I visited today taking a selfie while I was there.

Yes, you read that correctly. In case you haven’t heard, my temp assignment ended last week, and I’m looking for work yet again. It’s a good thing I’ve been going through psychotherapy again; otherwise, I might be in trouble mentally and emotionally.

 
Earlier this month, MeepMeep scratched the palm of my hand during playtime. It mostly healed, but a few days later, she scratched it yet again, in almost the same exact spot. The second time, it took a long time to stop bleeding. In this photo, it’s the big wound on the lower right part of my palm. You can also see a couple of other tiny wounds in the photo on/near my fingers. When I would wake up in the mornings, I would see them on my hand and briefly wonder if perhaps I had heart problems or something... but come on. I think we all know who put those tiny little wounds there. She’s hanging out near my lap while I type this.

 

Not sure what it is about my hand being a target for minor flesh wounds, but I accidentally wounded my thumb recently in nearly the same spot: once with a fork, a second time with a fingernail from my other hand, both while I was preparing lunch.

My hand is fine. The wounds have been in the process of healing. But I had to keep the wounds covered with band-aids for a short while. Otherwise, major owie.

Healing is interesting like that.

“The Lord builds up Jerusalem; He gathers together the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:2-3)

My psychotherapist is awesome. She’s like a psychology genius, and she operates in the prophetic, so our sessions have been pretty epic so far. I like how she basically summed up how life happens: Trauma happens to you when you’re a child, but you can’t really process it because you’re a child, or else instead of doing practical things like learning how to tie your shoes, you’d just be processing your trauma all the time; but when you’re in your 20s and 30s, all of that trauma bubbles up to the surface, and you have to deal with it years after it happened. Yep.

There were a couple of random days in the past few weeks when I would suddenly get hit with something emotionally. One day while I was having my lunch break in my car, I was thinking about stuff and talking to God about my life, and I started crying. A lot. I wailed like a toddler. I hadn’t wept like that in a long time. My car windows are tinted, and it was raining outside, so I don’t think anyone saw or heard. (I like how God can hide us like that.)

I told my psychotherapist about it, and she was like, Um, yeah, you kinda have a lot of stuff to grieve about. Hmm. I hadn’t really thought about it like that. But she’s right. From what I understand, grief happens when you lose something or someone. In the past 14 months or so, I’ve lost two jobs, friends, a cat, 30 pounds, a good credit rating, dignity, a beloved career, hopes and dreams... and I’m sure the list goes on and on. As my psychotherapist explained, the things that we grieve about tend to build up inside us, but we cover them up with an internal dam; and sometimes when the dam lowers, the grief just gushes out.

From what I understand, things like anger and depression can be part of the grieving process. So, I think that’s why they’ve been gushing out during the past several months.

Another thing my psychotherapist showed me is that I still identify myself as an abuse survivor; but all of us need to move past that victim mentality and walk in victory instead. I thought I had already done that in previous years, but I guess I’ve moved back into that victim-mentality way of thinking. Maybe its kind of like being repeatedly wounded in the same place. It leaves a nasty-looking scar.

But there’s always hope when you have Somebody to help you through your process.

So, on Sunday afternoon, I got a call from my temp agency telling me to not report back to work. On Monday morning, I hit the job hunt pretty hard and pretty cheerfully. I’ve noticed that the first day of unemployment is always the most peaceful and hopeful. (Although technically -- at least legally in Texas -- I’m not unemployed, because I’m registered with an employment agency.) But on Monday afternoon, after I had applied for several jobs and got an idea of what’s really available out there, I started to get discouraged. I’ve been applying for jobs off and on for the past 14 months, and I just got tired of seeing the same stuff over and over again. (And, not to mention, the same rejection over and over again.) Around 4:45 p.m. that afternoon, I collapsed on my knees and told God, “I give up.” I hadn’t even made it through the first day.

God replied, “You’re better than this.” So, I exhaustedly scraped myself off the floor and finished my day.

The next morning, He showed me that I had made it through a previous season: “You powered through it like a champ.” He told me to power through this season like a champ as well.

I replied, “Chazaq!” (That’s Hebrew for “strong.” I believe that’s the same word that God used in Joshua 1:9 when He told Joshua to be strong and courageous.) And I felt a lot better.

Of course, anytime you’re going through something like this, it’s important to let God lead you through it and to listen for any specific instructions that He might give you. For this particular trial, instead of getting desert imagery like I have in the past, I felt like I got some ocean imagery: “You don’t have to swim in it; just ride the waves and see what washes up on shore.”

So, this morning, the waves landed me at an employment agency that I hadn’t visited before. The office wasn’t really the most professional environment. While I was there filling out the necessary documentation, the receptionist was Facebooking on her computer. When I was finished, she asked me to wait in the lobby area. Then she proceeded to take a selfie on her phone.

It was at that moment that I felt a tiny little splash of grief crack through my internal dam. What was I doing there? What happened to my life? I have a college degree, I have years of job experience under my belt, and I’m having to start over yet again. How much do I still need to be humbled?

Of course, I couldn’t just start wailing like a toddler right there in the agency’s office. That would be unprofessional. (I really can’t fault the receptionist for her behavior. I used to be a receptionist at a recruiting office, so I understand firsthand how much freedom the office workers are given there.)

But while I was wailing like a toddler during my lunch break in my car awhile back, I told God I didn’t care where I ended up, as long as I was with Him. And I meant it. I still do.

“I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread.” (Psalm 37:25)

One of the options I’ve been thinking/praying through lately is the possibility of going back to school. Wouldn’t it be interesting to earn a second degree? Can you see 42-year-old me hanging around a bunch of college kids who are less than half my age? I can. I would frickin’ love that. I think it would be a healing thing, actually. I haven’t always had good experiences with millennials, but maybe spending more time with them would help me have a better opinion of this crazy new generation that I didn’t have a hand in raising. I wonder if I would be like an opinionated old grandma: “When I was your age, we didn’t have all your newfangled internet gadgets. [Hacks an old-lady cough.] I had to walk to class in six feet of snow when I was in college. [Yeah, right, grandma. You went to college in Texas.]”

There’s something about being in your 40s that makes you qualified to say some things. When you’re my age, you’ve seen quite a bit of life; you’ve seen some beautiful things, and you’ve seen some really ugly things, and you’ve hopefully learned from them all. Maybe it’s part of my spiritual gifting (shepherding), but there’s something inside me that screams to share what I’ve learned with other people (probably one reason why I blog).

And I know I have plenty to learn from the younger generation, too.

Actually, I can hear that “Listen to me, youngsters; I’ll give you some wisdom” tone in Psalm 37:25. From what I understand, King David wrote Psalm 37 during his twilight years. When he says, “I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread,” I think he’s really saying, “Trust me, I know what I’m talking about, this is just the way it is: God hasn’t ever, EVER turned His back on His children or neglected to take care of them -- not once.” 

OK, David, I’ll take your word for it. I know you wouldn’t have taken the trouble of writing that into a song, and I know God wouldn’t have made sure it made it into the Bible, if it weren’t true.

So, that’s one thing I can be certain of during this season of multiple uncertainties: God will take care of me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

LikDepUnrec

The title of this post doesn’t make sense, does it? I had three different ideas for titles and decided to just smush them together:

Like an animal
Depression... again
Unrecognizable

So, LikDepUnrec. (My version of clickbait.)

Right now, my life doesn’t make much sense, either.




The other day, I weighed myself for the first time in a long time and discovered that I’m just under 160 pounds. I believe this is the lowest I’ve weighed in all of my adult life. (When I was borderline anorexic in college, I think I weighed 170.) I saw myself in the mirror later that day and didn’t recognize myself. For months, my clothes have been very baggy on me, and I’ve had to wear my belt on a tighter notch. Clothes in my closet that were too tight for me are suddenly wearable.

This is all good news, and people tell me that I look good; except if you’ve been following my blog lately, you know that I’ve lost weight due to poverty. (I’ve kept it off with exercise and more poverty.) But looking good isn’t a bad thing. As a 42-year-old woman, I think it’s cool that God has renewed my youth Psalm-103-style so that I feel like I’m in my 20s again.

I feel healthy, but not all the time.

A few weeks ago, I had a strange health scare. For several days in a row, the limbs on the right side of my body felt tingly and numb, as if they were falling asleep. At first, I thought maybe I was having a heart attack or a stroke. Then I wondered if it was a version of restless leg syndrome due to high blood pressure.

Whatever it was, it was uncomfortable and scary, and it almost felt like I was becoming paralyzed. It affected how I walked, typed, and gripped my pen to write. I didn’t visit a doctor due to lack of applicable health insurance, but I am 100% better now.

While I was going through it and praying for myself, I felt like God said that I was stressed and tired (due to a ridiculously crazy schedule at the time), so I treated myself by resting. God also told me something profound: “You can’t expect to live through what you’ve lived through and it not to affect you physically.”

Indeed. I think it’s affected me emotionally as well.

“Thus my heart was grieved, and I was vexed in my mind. I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You.” (Psalm 73:21-22)

Lately, I’ve often felt more like an animal than a human being. As I’ve struggled to just make it and survive, I feel triumphant, and yet I don’t really feel like I’m living much differently than a stray animal in the street. I feel like with each passing month, I have to find something new to live without just to make ends meet. (For example: For a period of time this summer, instead of eating a sandwich for lunch with bologna and bread, I ate a sandwich/taco thing with part of a Slim Jim and one or more corn tortillas. I do not recommend the latter unless you are otherwise starving.)

But I’m amazed at how simple acts of humanity can suck the animalistic-ness out of me. All it takes is one thoughtful friend to say something like, “Hey, I’m trying to get rid of some extra food, and I know you could use some,” and I feel human again.

So, I don’t think its a mystery as to why I’ve been dealing with depression... again.

I’m REALLY glad I’ve overcome depression in the past, because I know how to fight it. And I know how to deal with it when I feel too weak to fight it. For me, I know that it isn’t a formula. Sometimes it’s spiritual warfare, and I ask God to inflict the same punishment on them that they intended for me. (They’re demons. There’s no need to be nice to them.) Sometimes I listen to praise/worship music. One night, I felt like I needed a very deep cry, so I dug out my journal (which I rarely write in anymore) and I wrote in it as a way of pouring out my heart to God.

Incidentally, pouring out my heart to God is how I usually end up getting out of a depression. It’s a way to untangle the internal knots, and it’s a way to connect with God... which is what the devil tries to prevent us from doing in the first place.

Sometime last year, God told me something else that was profound: “When you have a bad day and you don’t talk to Me about it, it insults Me.” The tone in His voice wasn’t condemning or shaming. He was just talking to me like a concerned Friend or Father, maybe whose feelings I had accidentally hurt, as if He were saying something like, “Hey, I heard you were in trouble. Why didn’t you call Me? I would have helped you.”

I’ve remembered that. So, if I’m struggling during my day with depressed, angry, hopeless, or just otherwise crazy-bad thoughts, I won’t vent on Facebook or text a friend like I used to do. I’ll try to remember to talk to God about it first. Then we’ll work through it together. Sometimes He’ll speak something profound right away, and I’ll feel better quickly. Other times, I’ll spend a large portion of the day venting to Him, maybe whining like a little girl; He’ll listen, correct me, listen some more, and speak some wisdom that I desperately need in my situation. We’ll bond. We’ll build relationship. We’ll enjoy some intimate time together. And THEN, if I feel like it, I’ll talk about it to a friend or maybe write about it on social media (including this site right here). But that’s just my new process.

The classic definition of depression is “anger turned inward.” If I keep the angry stuff that’s been churning inside me just on the inside, it can fester and become depression. Or if I’m constantly discouraged, it can become depression. Either way, it’s important to keep the flow going -- pouring out my heart to God, especially the anger -- or I’m in trouble.

The other day, I was fighting suicidal thoughts... again. I thought I was done with that crap. But the way that it hit me and suddenly spiraled downward reminded me of another time that I was fighting similar thoughts. I think it has something to do with my financial situation and the feeling of hopelessness attached to it.

I don’t mean to dishonor anyone when I talk about this, but just to be honest -- I also think perhaps these particular suicidal thoughts are rooted in at least one conversation that occurred while I was in my mother’s womb. It involved a certain impoverished couple who were faced with the news that they were expecting a baby, and an idea was presented to them that the pregnancy could possibly be terminated. I wonder if perhaps this couple did not dismiss this idea appropriately. I wonder if perhaps a certain impoverished college student considered his offspring to be an inconvenient financial burden. And I wonder if perhaps a certain part of my soul has believed the lie that the termination of life would be a convenient way to solve the problem of poverty.

That is why I need psychotherapy... again. I’m looking forward to getting some professional help sorting through this kind of thing.

Over the past several months, I’ve felt anger and bitterness churning inside me, and they would bubble out in ways that would embarrass me and hurt people. They still have been, and I’ve been working through that. But it looks like now is another time in my life to intensely work through something that just needs to be taken care of. You can’t sweep stuff like this under the rug. If you do, it’ll just balloon out of control, and the next thing you know, you’ve got a huge monster that’ll threaten to eat you alive. Along with everyone else around you.

Overcoming depression. Let’s do this... again.

This time around has been interesting so far. I’ve noticed things about myself that this year of brazenness has created in me. I think I’m fiercer than I’ve ever been in my entire life. For example, I’ve caught myself killing bugs with my bare hands, like a cat would. Why reach for a Kleenex or a napkin? Just aim your hand at the intruder and THWACK, all gone. (I sort of do spiritual warfare like that, too. Maybe that’s one reason why the devil hates me?)

I feel the need to talk about something obvious. I’m on a worship team where they point a camera at me while I sing into a microphone. I smile, I dance, I praise God, and I encourage everyone in the room to join me. How could I possibly be depressed if I look so happy? Well, I think the Bible says it best...

“In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

I really AM happy when I’m on the worship platform. I’m in God’s presence. I also feel right at home. The way I see it, God is my Father; if church is His house, then the worship platform is like His living room. We host guests, we enjoy His company, and we bond over special moments. I’m in His family, so I belong there. I’m at peace there, even in the midst of the battle.

And one reason why I’ve broadcast all of this personal information on here is, of course, because I like to slice my soul open from time to time and let you have a looksee. (Not to mention, mental health has been in the news a lot this year, so I don’t think it hurts to share my two cents about it.) Another reason is because the worship platform is a crazy-interesting place where you get to show people what it’s like to live out a dream. When you’re in the congregation, it’s easy to think that the people who are singing into the microphones have perfect lives. Um, no. Far from it. I think maybe one reason why God lets us hold microphones is to show the devil, “Hey, remember her? You tried to take her out, but she’s still here.”

I think maybe another reason why God puts people like me on a platform is so that He can gently nudge somebody and say, “See? If she can do it -- if that crazy woman who’s going through psychotherapy for the third time can put herself out there and worship Me with every fiber of her being -- so can you.”

Because He’s worthy... always.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

When life is a big question mark

A lot of rain fell in my area recently. We had stormy weather, and the power went out in my apartment a couple of times. The first time was on Friday night after my dishes were washed and my laundry was clean. The second time was on Saturday morning, almost afternoon, after I had eaten lunch. So, both times happened when it wasn’t a tragedy for me to be without electricity. On Friday night, I brushed my teeth and got ready for bed in the dark -- which went surprisingly smoothly, I guess because I know my way around my teeth quite well -- and on Saturday, I was tired and decided to just take a nap.

 
And both times, as soon as the electricity went off, one of my smoke alarms beeped and freaked out MeepMeep. On Friday night, she hid under my bed; on Saturday, she hid under the old chair in my living room. (This photo is edited for brightness.) I guess you could say our responses to a sudden trial were different. MeepMeep’s response was to rush to a safe place. My response was basically, “Eh, I can’t really do anything, so I may as well just rest.”

Not that either of our responses was wrong.

“Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.” (Psalm 37:3)

About two weeks ago, the event I had been waiting for finally came: The non-compete agreement that I signed with my previous employer expired, suddenly enabling me to seek employment with their clients. I am out of the wilderness and finally in my promised land, so to speak. Free at last!

But what’s surprised me about this new season is how much of an emotional roller coaster it’s been so far. I’m thankful to still have my temp job, although I don’t know how much longer it will last. I’m relieved to be able to look for a better job, although it doesn’t look like I’m as hot of a job candidate as I thought I was. So far, no one really seems interested. And so, I wait.

I guess that season of waiting that I just came out of basically prepared me for more waiting.

And some interesting things have been happening while I’ve been waiting. God told me very recently, “Youre more important than finding a job.” I’ve noticed that certain other non-job-related things in my life have been falling into place much faster than job-related stuff. For instance, I’m going to start psychotherapy again soon. Long story short, I’m going to get some professional help for some mental/emotional stuff for the third time in my life. (The first time was after I got out of the psych hospital in 2000, and the second time was in 2014, which I blogged about on this site.) I’ve been blessed with a cool opportunity, and I’m going to run with it.

So, this new season has started out crazy, but I guess in a way, each season is really supposed to build on previous seasons. I just came through one of the craziest seasons of my life, and I think I ended up learning/honing some important skills that are going to serve me well in this new season.

Perhaps I over-romanticized it in my head, but I’m not exactly sure why I thought I would suddenly step into a rose garden a couple of weeks ago. Even the Israelites didn’t suddenly start enjoying their promised land as soon as they set foot on it. I’m intrigued by their story in the Book of Joshua. Possessing their promised land was a process. They sent out spies, conquered Jericho, worked through some internal issues, and had to get rid of some giants on their new turf. Even God knew that Joshua may have been a little freaked out by the importance of his new task, as He told him multiple times in Joshua chapter 1, “Be strong and courageous.” Don’t be scared, man. Be chazaq.

And, as usual, God doesn’t really seem to be in a hurry. I’ve realized that He’s probably the only Employer I’ve had who hasn’t demanded that I work faster. (Technically, if I’m called to the ministry, God is my Employer, no matter whose payroll I’m on.) Anytime a boss has a complaint about my work, it’s usually that I’m not working fast enough. But God isn’t like that. He Himself doesn’t seem to be in a hurry whatsoever. I think that, in and of itself, is very healing for me.

 

I was recently encouraged to check out Psalm 37, which is a Bible passage that I’ve meditated on a lot over the years. This time around, verse 3 has jumped out at me -- “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.” I think the imagery here is an agrarian one; I think of animals grazing. Cue MeepMeep, who happened to be hanging out near my leg after I came home one day.

Sometimes when I wonder if I’m doing something right, or if I’m missing anything, or if I’m pleasing God in whatever I’m doing, He’ll bring my cat to mind. (Or whichever cats are living with me at the time. If you’ve followed my blog over the past several years, you know that God taught me a lot through Macho and Choochie.) He might ask me something like, “Does she ask you if she’s doing all her cat things the right way?” And, knowing where He’s going with that line of questioning, I’ll reply sheepishly, “No.” And He might gently but firmly ask rhetorically, “Well, then?”

He’s right, of course. MeepMeep is a cat; therefore, she already knows exactly how to be a cat. She knows how to meow, how to groom herself, how to hide from potential danger, how to purr, how to request/demand food from her caretaker, how to play, how to snuggle, etc. If she were to suddenly become insecure and ask me if she were doing the whole feline experience correctly, well... I wouldn’t dismiss her concerns, and I wouldn’t refuse to answer her. But it would be slightly ridiculous of her to ask me something like that. I’d probably be like, “I love you; just be yourself.”

Bingo.

I’m a sheep, and I belong to my Shepherd; therefore, I know His voice. There’s a certain direction that I feel like He’s led me in, so I’ve been following Him there. It’s dark and confusing in this place, but there’s no need to freak out. I already know what to do. I just need to trust in Him and do good; I just need to dwell here and feed on the fact that He is faithful.

So, when life is a big question mark, you trust God. It isn’t always easy, but if you’re where He wants you, you’re more than likely going to be safe. And why wouldn’t you be? God takes care of His own. It wouldn’t glorify Him to do otherwise.

So, until the lights come back on, so to speak, I’m going to keep doing what I already know to do. I’m going to take life one day at a time. I’m going to keep asking Him to provide for me, because I know He can, and because I’ve seen Him do it in some really cool ways. I’m going to keep hoping for the next big opportunities to come along, because I know they’re coming. I’m going to kill some giants, cuz they ain’t got no business being on my new turf. And I’m going to rest, because I really need to. (Seriously, I’ve been exhausted, and it hasn’t been very healthy.)

Speaking of lights...

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1a)

... would you believe God led me to Psalm 27 on the night that the power went out? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but it was pretty funny. Just another example of how He knows exactly where I am and exactly what I need. He knows about the question mark, and He knows how to answer it.

And He’s always going to be brighter than any stupid darkness.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Numbers, numbers everywhere

I recently noticed that the mileage on my car was 120,666. I humorously freaked out ever so slightly. (Because of the number 666.) But God was like, “You’ll never see numbers as being unlucky ever again.” 

Earlier that day, I balanced my checkbook and discovered that I had just barely over $13 until my next paycheck (which is more than I thought I would have). God showed me that I would never see the number 13 the same way again.

He’s right. 13 is a mighty blessed number indeed.

“But I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalm 13:5-6)

About a decade ago, I had a crush on a guy in my Sunday School class. What made this guy different is that he actually liked me back – a rarity indeed! (I’ve probably mentioned him before here on my blog.) However, the deal-breaker – besides the facts that 1) he was a smoker and 2) he didn’t like to sit in the worship services – was that he had been involved in the occult off and on, and he didn’t really seem all that serious about leaving that lifestyle. 

But he said something that stuck with me: He would always see something that reminded him of the pagan-y lifestyle anytime he would see numbers. In other words, whenever he would notice numbers in everyday life (e.g., on his alarm clock), I guess he had difficulty in not seeing some type of divination potential or occult-y connection of some sort.

I don’t know about all that, but I do know one thing: God created numbers. And regardless of how the devil may have tried to steal them, God can always redeem them.

There are Bible scholars who can explain what certain numbers mean in Scripture (e.g., 5 means grace, 10 means testing), so I won’t go into all that here. But I think it’s cool how God has been highlighting certain numbers in my life lately and showing what they mean to me.

This year, the number 911 has been sticking out to me. It hasn’t been uncommon that my eyes will just happen to be looking at a clock whenever it’s 9:11. At first, I thought maybe it was God’s way of telling me to pray/intercede for somebody/something. But then He showed me that He was just trying to speak to me in my language.

Of course, in my culture, 911 is the number that we use to call for help. (Which I’m sure the terrorists were acutely aware of back in 2001.) So, this year whenever I’ve seen 9:11 on a clock somewhere, it was God’s way of saying that He sees me. It was like His way of saying Hi. But I think He’s taken it a step further.

The other day while I was driving to work, I noticed that the clock on my car said 7:47. I felt like God told me that I’ve been noticing 911 this year, but now I would start to notice 747 (like the jet). All year long, He’s heard my cry for help. And now, He’s going to respond like a 747 jet.

Can you guess how much I had after I balanced my checkbook this morning? $7.47, of course.

I’ve been in trouble. And He’s coming to help.

“Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion! Declare His deeds among the people.” (Psalm 9:11)

So, here I am again at that time of the month where I’ve breathed a sigh of relief because I’ve been able to pay my rent, but I’ve begun to worry because I’ve crunched the numbers and am not 100% sure how I’m going to pay next month’s rent. And buy gas. And buy food.

But why should I worry? In Matthew 6:34, Jesus said to just take it one day at a time. That’s an important lesson I’ve been learning in this crazy season.

He’s brought me this far. Why would He quit now?

 

He’s provided a way for me to take care of this little one. He’s provided a way for her to eat, drink water, and have a litterbox like a civilized house cat.

He’s provided a way for me to eat, drink water, drive a car, earn a living, and exist in this world like a civilized human being. I’ve been eking out my existence in ways that I never dreamed were possible, but I’ve been making it.

Because God has been helping me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to make it at all. I need Him. I depend on Him.

These are lessons that I’ll be able to carry with me into the next season... whether it begins in 3 weeks, 3 months, or 3 years.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Desert reflections


“Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:8)

When I went through a round of psychotherapy about four years ago, my therapist instructed me to journal. I ended up doing so in a spiral notebook for a month and a half. I had forgotten about it until I found the notebook in a box recently. WOW. I was a psycho nut job. There were a couple of pages where I had had a terrible day at work and vented in my journal with a ton of profanity. The issues I was working through at the time were loneliness, rejection, abandonment, and neglect. Um, sound familiar? (No worries, I know why I deal with those, and now I know when they flare up.) I’ve been working through these recently again, probably at a different level/layer, probably at a different intensity.

Perhaps the fact that I’ve been working through them yet again is actually an answer to my own prayer at the end of that spiral-notebook journal: “Thank You for my issues. Help me to work through them completely, and help me to use them to catapult me into Your arms.”

That’s true, you know. Sometimes a crisis drives you to the Word, or drives you to seek God’s face more intensely than you’ve ever sought it before. Because you’re desperate. You need answers. You need freedom. You need peace. You need Him, and you can’t rest until you find Him.

And sometimes we just carry stuff inside us that we don’t know is there. The safest place to squeeze/pour it out is in God’s presence. And sometimes God takes us to a special place where we can do just that.

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her.” (Hosea 2:14)

“Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.” (Psalm 33:18-19)

I think I might be ripping off a flagship Bible verse of a local ministry, but Hosea 2:14 can describe what happens when God pulls us aside for a brief season and lets us work through stuff privately.

Today while I was talking through some worries/concerns/stuff with God, He reminded me that a desert is SUPPOSED TO be hard. It’s supposed to have extreme conditions – cold at night, unbearably hot during the day, no water, cacti that contain their own water sources just so that they can survive there. Why would a loving God create places like this? I believe it’s to remind us of what a hard season is like.

From what I understand, even Jesus went through a desert. Matthew chapter 4 says that he was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. When we talk about this passage, we usually focus on what happened AFTER He spent 40 days in the wilderness: The devil tempted Him, and He overcame those temptations. But what about during those 40 days when He was fasting? Did He work through some emotional stuff? Did He kick and scream? The Bible doesn’t say. (Regardless, He made it through that rough patch without sinning.) Jesus is God, but He’s also human, and I think maybe even He needed some privacy for 40 days. And when it was over, He began His ministry. I guess you could say He entered His “promised land.”

As you probably know, I’m nearing the end of a hard season financially. I’ve dropped a full pants size (at least) because I can’t afford to buy as much food as I used to. I’ve lost so much weight that I’ve discovered bones on my skeleton that I didn’t know I had. I’m incredibly behind on several of my credit accounts, and I’ve been praying that they won’t sue me. The best news I had today was that my current electric bill, after that huge heat wave that we experienced in my area, is only $69 and some change.

But, speaking of change, I feel that it’s coming my way soon. I felt God’s pleasure over me today as He said, “You’ve had enough.” I also felt like He reminded me of how we’re always surrounded by so much harvest during the fall season (which is just around the corner). I felt like He said that I would see a “bumper crop.”

That would rock my world.

But meanwhile – as crazy as this may sound – I’m content here in the desert, where I haven’t gone hungry, I haven’t been without appropriate clothing, I haven’t lost my mind, and I haven’t died. (Or, hopefully, only my “self” has died.) And – as crazier as this may sound – I might even miss it after I leave.

 

MeepMeep is in heat (again) as I write this, so her feline expressions are currently intensified. Her emotions are more aggressive than usual. And her separation anxiety is pretty acute. When she freaks out, calming her down isn’t a formula, so I have to see what kind of mood she’s in to see what will work. In this photo, she joined me on the couch after I whistled at her. See how relaxed and adorable she is here?

I feel like she’s gotten to know my character during her little crises. She knows I’ll never leave her, she knows I want what’s best for her, she knows I won’t give up on her just because she’s going a little crazy, she knows I’m patient and gentle with her... and she knows I’ll put my foot down if I need to. (I mean, Mama needs to sleep, right?)

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this analogy.

It’s in the hard, rough, dry places that we get to experience the parts of God’s character that we may have never experienced before. When we’re dealing with our mess, and when He rolls up His sleeves and comes alongside us to help us clean it up, we bond with Him. Then after we make it through our rough patch, we won’t want to leave His side, because we know we can’t make it through life without Him.

The trials, the rough places, the deserts – they eventually end up catapulting us into the arms of God.