Tag Archive | spirituality

Reflections of Christmas (December 25, 2009)

December 25th, 3:00 AM…for those of you who don’t know me well, I often write in the middle of the night.  My rational is that since I rarely have a chance to slow down, God messes with my sleep and uses my down-time to talk to me.  On this Christmas morning, my mind struggles to focus on one particular thing.  Mostly, I am thinking about the meaning of Christmas – the true meaning, Jesus’ birth.  But, since we’re nearing the end of December, I cannot help but reflect about my spiritual walk over this past year.  What makes me even more pensive is that we are approaching the one-year anniversary of this newsletter.  That means I’ve written eleven devotionals, but have they – have I – glorified God and inspired women in the process.

At the surface, it may seem like my thoughts are jumbled, but I submit to you, there is a definite connection between the Christmas story and our daily responsibilities as Christians.  As we embark on yet another year of our life on this Earth, let us remember the joy we feel because of Jesus’ birth, and the love of God the Father, who gave us the ultimate Christmas gift over 2000 years ago.  Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection are not mere events to consider twice a year, but really something that should be at the forefront of our thoughts every day!

That sounds great, but is that what we do?  Is that what I do?  Are sometimes my ideals simply words on a page that lack meaning and application in my life?  When someone looks at me, do they see God’s love, or do they see some self-centered woman who cannot seem to get things right for any appreciable amount of time?  Am I really progressing in my spiritual walk?  Is it that two-steps-forward-one-step-back type of maturity, or do I find myself sliding down the spiritual mountain?  I ask these questions to myself, but really, we should all consider where we are and where we’re going.  If we truly believe the Christmas story, we need to ask these questions, and, we need to be honest enough with ourselves to answer them, but without condemnation.

When I reflect over the year, I see a few shining moments where God’s love radiated from me, but I also see some moments where I must have been demon-possessed! I honestly relate to Paul when he writes, “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.  Now, if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it (Romans 7:15-20).”

I have to include the whole text to help you appreciate my thought-process.  Paul has rehashed my entire spiritual journey in this passage, including the agonizing frustration that goes along with it.  I’ve had this identical conversation with God, even taking it to the point of yelling, begging, and crying over it.  I ask Him, “What’s wrong with me?  God, come on, please help me be consistent.  Help me show Your love; help me do the things I sincerely want to do.  Why is that the more I want to show You, the more I end up disappointing You, and myself?  Why?”

Paul was able to point out that our problem with not reaching our ideals is because of sin living in us.  I don’t know about you, but looking at the magnitude of sin in my life, Paul’s words alone are not too reassuring!  I mean, sure there’s been progress in reducing my sin, but it’s an incredibly slow process, like using an ice-pick to break up a glacier the size of Greenland.  It would be enough to overwhelm me if I had to tackle this problem on my own.  But, I am comforted to know that our sinful nature is overcome because of Jesus!

And, that brings us back to the Christmas story, the true meaning of Christmas… the birth of Jesus, who would later die to redeem us.  We are completely undeserving of His sacrifice, especially considering nothing is required for us to accept His ultimate gift.  For me, this puts everything in a different light.  I’m not just forcing a mere ‘thank you’ to be polite for a gift I didn’t want.  I am truly humbled by the magnificent gift that God has given me – a gift I didn’t even realize I needed for a large part of my life!  I want to grow spiritually; I want to share God’s love with everyone; I want to honor the amazing God who loves us unconditionally.  This doesn’t mean I will always get everything right, or even come close, but I can and will accept I am a work in progress and continue persevering towards to the goal.  This year, let’s make it a daily priority to remember what we’ve been given and put God first in everything that we do.  May you have joyful and blessed New Year!

“For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled in the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19).

Heart Purification

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8, ESV).

I posted on Facebook earlier that the K-Love verse of the day was Matthew 5:8, and that today’s lesson from my Aunt’s Max Lucado “Experiencing the Heart of Jesus” Bible study was on the Beatitudes. 

“Coincidences” like this tend to get me thinking….and the following paragraph from Lucado really got my brain going this morning:  “And though your heart isn’t perfect, it isn’t rotten.  And though you aren’t invincible, at least you’re plugged in.  And you can bet that he who made you knows just how to purify you – from the inside out.”

God knows how to purify you from the inside out… Why, yes, He does, even when you’re not looking for Him to!  In fact, God started working on my heart years before I was saved.   I believe this was necessary for me to fully embrace His love for me.

When I look back to the relationships and other experiences I had during college and graduate school, it was clear that my heart was non-existent.  I was closed to receiving love from others and tended to push people away when they tried to get too close.  The rational behind this could be a dissertation in itself, so I will spare you the details, but basically, I kept my heart safe, so no one could hurt me.  Instead of opening my heart to the possibility of things I didn’t understand, I hardened my heart, refusing to let anyone in.

Luckily, God slowly began softening my heart and planting seeds that would one day allow me to realize His love.

The major chisel to my hardened heart was the birth of my son.  I have learned so much about how to love by becoming a mother than from anything I have ever experienced.  Most people try to teach their children to love as they do; but, I can honestly say that my ability to love has resulted from my son teaching me!  I wish I could say that I learned the first time I held him in my arms, but like everything, it’s been a process.  Early on, I failed more often than I succeeded, but God gave me a wonderful boy, who always loved me in spite of my many imperfections as a mother.  I am grateful that my son and I are finally to a place where we can both learn from one another!

The next major chisel to my heart problem was the realization that my life was not where I wanted it to be.  I was still not a Christian, so I cannot really cite this verse as the basis for my change, but looking back, it makes perfect sense:   Get rid of the sins you have done, and get for yourselves a new heart and a new way of thinking (Ezekiel 18:31, NCV).

I knew some things in my life had to change, even before I knew I needed God.   Again, this is backwards thinking!   We should realize we need God, and allow Him to change us, but that’s not how it initially worked, likely because I did not have an understanding of God’s grace from my Catholic upbringing.  But, even though I was not seeking God, He was always chasing after me!

Slowly, my heart began to change, and I became open to loving other people and letting them into my heart.  However, as with anything new, it wasn’t a smooth process.  I ended up being manipulated and found myself in a dangerous situation.  But, despite the pain that resulted from my naïve heart, God used this experience to bring me to church, and by this point, my heart was ready to know Him.  Even though some people may not understand my feelings, I have absolutely no regrets, as this led me to learn about God’s amazing grace, Jesus’ unfailing love, and ultimately gave me eternal life!

To me, the most surprising thing is that afterwards, I did not go back to the “safety” of my hardened heart, as I would have expected, but rather I learned to trust God with my heart.  And, while the road has not always been smooth, and my humanness tends to complicate matters, I know I am headed in the direction that He desires for me. 

I’m being purified from the inside out, and as this is happening, I am able to see God more clearly.  Sounds like a win-win situation to me!

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).”

Living in the World

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2 ESV).

My personality is unique. I’m very open and try to appreciate others for who they are, no matter their sins. I’m pretty successful at this, even with acquaintances and strangers. People generally feel comfortable being their true selves around me, and find no reason to hide anything. This is a very good thing…usually!

A problem can result when other people take my acceptance of their beliefs as my personal agreement with their decisions. I’ve never walked in the other person’s shoes, so I have no right in judging them. But, I have walked miles in my own shoes and know where God is leading me.

Since I’ve been on this trip, a couple of “weird” comments have been made by others that concern me greatly. I’m somewhat comfortable with expressing my beliefs, but fear these people’s thoughts represent the “status quo” for society. Considering the frequency of such remarks has been increasing in my life, this must be true!

Before I go into specifics, let me warn you that this is going to get personal really fast! You may not want to know this much about me or my struggles. I’ve been told that I should come with a warning label! This is it; you’ve been warned!!

Let’s start with last night. I decided to have a couple of beers with my colleagues, but I arrived at the bar earlier than the others. I ordered a beer, sat down at the bar, and the man next to me struck up a conversation with me, as frequently happens. It was completely harmless and innocent. When the others arrived, a colleague of mine asked me why I didn’t “go for that”. I initially thought she was joking, but I quickly learned she was serious. I explained that I’m not like that and don’t want to hook up with a random person. She then said something that disturbed me greatly….”No one has to know.”

I laughed and said, “This is me we’re talking about, everyone would know because I can’t lie or hide something that serious.” I tried to explain what I was looking for in a relationship and that I was not going to compromise that, but I don’t think they understood.

This morning, the group was talking about dancing, and since they know I enjoy it, they showed me a YouTube video of a hot, new Latin dance. I remarked that I would not be comfortable performing that dance socially, but it’s something I could enjoy with my husband, if I were married. A comment was made – “Isn’t that what dancing is for, to have fun with random people?” It is, but I feel some dances are too intimate to be shared so casually. Think back to the movie “Dirty Dancing” – this is your dance space; this is mine.

In society’s eye, I have become a prude! Anyone who has known me for any amount of time would have to credit (or curse, depending on their perspective) God for this transformation. I used to think just like everyone else seems to think…but I don’t anymore.

Maybe I’m ultra-sensitive and vigilant in this area because I know all too well the slippery slope that you face when you flirt too close to the line. I’ve even learned that being upfront and honest with people may encourage “challenge” in the wrong man’s eyes. This is all very dangerous and I’ve yet to meet a non-Christian who understands. Perhaps my mistake here is in trying to justify myself to someone who may never get it.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many Christians who seem to get it either. Many are married and haven’t experienced the pressures and societal “expectations” of single adults. I’ve also met single Christians who choose to ignore sin in this area of their lives, and others who have never had the opportunity for temptations or are not interested in “such things” at all.

It’s really too bad that sex is such a taboo subject in the church and many people are uncomfortable talking about it. I really believe that if we Christians are open about our struggles, it would show that this is a common issue among single adults who want to honor God in their actions, and still want to enjoy life to the fullest! It would also make it easier for everyone to be on the same page, and allow for compassion and grace.

Honestly, I’m not even completely at peace with God’s teaching regarding sex and marriage. I’ve come a long way, but I’m not there yet! A friend of mine recently got married for the second time and they decided to wait to have sex until their wedding night. I fully respect and admire their devotion to God, but I’m not convinced I could be that strong!

Now that I think about it (and you’re reading it here first, as I never considered this until this precise moment), maybe this is the reason I avoid relationships, especially with Godly men… Part of me feels guilty that I have these struggles and not having a pristine past makes me feel unworthy of their love. But, more than that, I know I could never be successful waiting to have sex until marriage (something that may never happen) in my own strength…and I’m not completely sure that I want to. It sounds terrible that I would want to deliberately be disobedient, but unfortunately, that’s where I am. I may have subconsciously decided that it’s safer and easier to be alone, date casually (where sex isn’t an issue), or most horribly, get involved with men outside of God’s will. In all of these ways, I am showing my lack of trust in God…and that’s a huge problem for me!

I feel God is asking me for complete trust and obedience in this area and that’s scary for me…but like I said yesterday – if He brings me there, He’ll bring me through it. So, I really need to get over this issue completely…and maybe once I do, I’ll be more comfortable being “different” to “the world”.

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body (1 Corinthians 6:18 ESV).

Oppression, Control, and God – Ecclesiastes 4:1-8

Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun. Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind. Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business (Ecclesiastes 4:1-8 ESV).

Oppression is defined as a prolonged cruel or unjust exercise of power. It is a control tactic where people put their personal agendas ahead of what’s best for society as a whole. Oppressed groups can be because of race, sex, religious preference, or essentially any differing of opinion between people. It seems the more successful some people are in their efforts, the more oppression may actually be encouraged. You’re likely familiar with the expression of how it’s lonely at the top. This is because man’s attempts to be prosperous on his own could alienate the people who surround him. Man may view success as being “by any means necessary”. Without compassion and meaningful relationships, those who are oppressed and the successful who fight their way to the top may both find themselves alone.

Does this imply that pursuits of success should be avoided? No, but as Christians, we should stop working in our own strength and allow God to pick our battles for us, in society and in our toil. We should focus on God being the center of our life, and try not to become god to ourselves or others. We need to serve God completely for His glory, not our own personal gain.

I have written about this before, but I think it deserves a second mention. I’m generally pretty slow when it comes to realizing that God is trying to tell me something important!

As I’ve previously mentioned, I am an incredibly passionate person in everything that I do. I fully submerge myself in my hobbies, my church, friendships, and most importantly, my career. I want to give my absolute best effort to make a difference in everything I do. I don’t believe I do this selfishly or for the wrong reasons, but perhaps not everything I do is completely Christ-centered and it should be. There have been times that I have become discouraged or burnt out trying to make a positive difference and that may imply that I am working outside of God’s will for me at that moment.

My career tops the list where I experience this frustration! While sitting through “Death by Power Point” training today, everything clicked perfectly for me! I was reminded that I work for an organization that I am not going to change. There’s too much history; it’s too large; there are too many managers, too much politics… I’ve known this for a while, but it’s hard for me to accept. Let me say it again – There’s nothing I can do to significantly improve my employer! Trying too hard to “fix” my organization will only result in backlash towards me.

Should I find a new career, one that I can exercise more authority over? No, God led me to this position in an amazing way. There were so many bizarre “coincidences” and all of the timings related to my job change fell perfectly into place. I am completely at peace with everything, and God is carrying my through all of my work challenges. His hand is all over this!

Should I give less than my best effort at work? Absolutely not! My work is meaningful and deserves my total focus and commitment. It may not be perfect, but I am definitely making a contribution to society. I should give it my all for 40 hours per week (plus any mutually agreed upon overtime); but, I should not lose heart because I cannot “fix” my organization. I also feel that God is not leading me to be on the fast track to management within the organization. As long as I do my best in my current capacity, that is enough!

I should look to God for guidance as to where to focus my passion and endless energy. Some of His answers may be work related (especially regarding a colleague of mine whom God has placed in my life), but there is so much more to my life than my career.

I feel that God is leading me to become more involved in my family, my friends, my community, and with “strangers” through ministry. The time I am not working should be spent investing in the lives of others, especially my son. All of this should be done prayerfully and completely under God’s direction – because if He leads me somewhere, He will bring me through it. God has shown me time and time again that He is faithful. While I have come a long way in submitting to Him, I know there is more that I can surrender. I’m ready…

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD (Isaiah 55:8).”

Living in the Moment – Ecclesiastes 3:16-22

“Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to once place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him (Ecclesiastes 3:16-22).”

This passage can be easily taken to be depressing, if you let it…. I mean, who wants to consider the fact that we are born, and then we die? This passage may also be overlooked, as it is written outside of the lens of Jesus. The writer questions whether the spirit of man goes upward, but the question is not clearly answered in the book of Ecclesiastes. As Christians, knowing our salvation is guaranteed, we may feel we know more than the writer, and ignore his words.

Many Christians are constantly looking forward to heaven, and I think that’s an appropriate response to our salvation. However, I don’t think we should give up on the present while we contemplate eternity. Our time on earth is truly a gift, and as I’ve previously mentioned, a way to prepare for heaven.

I have spent a large portion of my life living for the past or the future. I’ve let guilt about my past mistakes and my dissatisfaction about unfulfilled dreams waste precious time for too long. I’ve spent countless hours imagining what life could be like if certain things would happen, not even considering if my ideas were remotely in line with God’s plan for my future. All of this is meaningless in the grand scheme of life. I cannot change the past, and I cannot predict the future. The only chance I have is to live each day the best way I know how.

When we moved, I started becoming more intentional about living in the present. I still don’t have this completely down, but I feel I’ve come a long way. I have been trying to build boundaries to keep negative influences from hurting me or controlling me. I have had to accept that some people I love may never understand me, my experiences, or my beliefs. And even though it hurts, I must let go of the negativity related to this truth, which continues to pull me down. I can still love these people and pray for them, but I cannot change them or expect they will want to unconditionally accept me for who I am.

I am more comfortable with the woman I am becoming, and I’m able to be completely myself and open with whomever I interact with. I am less afraid that being me will alienate other people from me. I trust that God will bring people into and out of my life in His timing, and will not let my concerns about the future affect my actions today.

My relationship with my son has improved dramatically because it’s only the two of us and I no longer have any excuse to neglect my responsibility in being the best parent possible. I can admit to my son that I do and will continue to make mistakes, but try to make the best decisions I can at the time. I feel he has grown tremendously in the past year, and is on track to be a compassionate, self-sufficient, and confident man.

I am embracing talents that I had previously given up on when others took control. I no longer need their approval to know that I am doing a good job. While it makes me feel good when people appreciate what I’m doing, as long as I’m glorifying God in everything I do, that’s the only satisfaction I need.

I am taking responsibility to learn how to do trivial things that I’ve avoided because other people were better at those tasks than I was. It doesn’t matter if my home is perfectly decorated, my dinners are gourmet, or if my fashion sense is impeccable. I will give everything my best effort, and that’s good enough for me.

It’s so freeing to make your own decisions and completely own your life, regardless of what other people think. Do I make mistakes? Every day! I often say too much, sometimes not enough, and frequently the wrong thing. My actions don’t always coincide with my intentions. I’m far from perfect when it comes to parenting, keeping house, and fitting in with certain groups of people. I find myself having to apologize a lot, but those apologies are heart-felt and sincere, not simple words with nothing to back them up. God is continuing to mold me into His desire for me….something better than I could ever imagine!

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6:34).”