Big Surprise

I was nervous when I submitted my latest guest blog post for Angela D Meyer’s website—until I received an email that blew me away.

Angela D Meyer

To backtrack, when I was trying to decide what to write, I noticed that Angela’s guidelines allowed short stories. My mind jumped to a story I wrote a few months ago, Nightmare. I thought it was the one most likely to connect to her demographic of readers.

The next morning, when I sat down to look at the story and decide whether to use it, I had an overwhelming feeling that the story was too strange. People don’t read short stories very often, and this one was different to the other stories I’d written so I wasn’t too sure about it.

But I looked at my other ideas for a blog post, and I just wasn’t feeling it. I flicked open my Bible on a whim, wondering if a verse would hit me in the face. The page landed on Isaiah 55:9 (NIV); “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”.

I figured that was pretty obvious. I might not think that people would connect with the story, but maybe God had other ideas. I sent it off to Angela, letting her know that if she didn’t like it I could do something else.

The story tells the experience of a young mother in hospital, waiting to hear if her infant son, Josiah, will live or die. It addresses the topic of where God is when we’re in pain.

I got this email back from Angela:

“Just read your short story. I love it. Very powerful. I have had 2 miscarriages and one of the babies we named Josiah. The emotions that threaten to pull you down can be overpowering. I am sure this story will be relatable to many women who have lost babies. Have you experienced this yourself? The emotions you voiced hit the mark.”

Wow. I was stunned. What a co-incidence! And I almost didn’t send it!

For the record, thankfully I have not experienced a miscarriage. I am not a mother, but I do have a six year-old sister, and my worst case scenario is something happening to her or another member of my family. I wrote the story out of a desire to better comprehend God’s attitude toward human suffering.

So, it looks like even though I wasn’t too sure about what I was doing, God knew better than me what was going on!

If you’d like to check out my guest post—and the rest of Angela’s site— click here.

My Heart is a Big Fat Liar

I suspect my heart is a culprit in the theft of my joy.

shattered heart

A week ago I wrote in my journal that I feel like God’s next lesson for me (in addition to recent lessons on trust) is about joy. More specifically, how to have more of it.

Yesterday morning I woke up after a restful sleep-in; it was the first morning of two days off work. I’d had great fun the night before, yelling at the TV with my housemates (it was a really dramatic episode of Chicago Fire!). But I woke up with guilt weighing me down. It wasn’t sumo wrestler-sized guilt; more like those exercise weights you strap to your ankles. It just made everything a bit harder.

Why? I wasn’t sure. But I felt unproductive, like I’d wasted chances given to me and God was frowning.

It’s not the first time and I know I’m not the only one. About eighteen months ago, I was sitting on a hotel rooftop in Warangal, India, having a devotion time with my seven mission trip teammates. We were all listening as one of us confessed that he’d been feeling distant from God and cynical about his faith for months. The feeling was eating at him, and he didn’t know how to fix it. He was torn apart by fear that this feeling meant something was fundamentally wrong with his relationship with God.

The view from our hotel rooftop in Warangal.
The view from our hotel rooftop in Warangal.

As I listened, I remembered something my Mum once told me during a difficult period of my teenage years: We all have our logic, spirit and emotion. And sometimes Logic and Spirit have to grab Emotion by the arms and drag him along, kicking and screaming. Sometimes, we have to ignore our feelings—our hearts—and go with what we know is the truth.

I’ve also heard of a pastor, who, when someone tells him, “I feel far away from God,” immediately asks, “Are you sleeping, eating and exercising right?” He believes that these are the most common causes for a feeling that God is distant or unhappy.

I don’t want to minimize emotions relating to a tragedy, clinical depression or a spiritual distance caused by sin. Those are real issues, and they need dealing with. What I’m talking about is that vague feeling that God’s looking at me, frowning—and I can’t figure out why.

So today, I’m proposing a new theory: Just because you feel something, doesn’t mean you have to believe it. Even the Bible says: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9 NIV)

I think a lot of people—including myself and my teammate—freak out when our emotions tell us that we’ve moved a long way from God. We assume that we are a long way from God and immediately take action to rectify the situation, despairing when nothing changes.

Then one day, the problem is magically gone. Why? It was never there to start with. You probably just had messed-up hormones that week.

Yesterday I woke up and prayed for a while, trying to relieve my heavy feeling. Then I looked back over my week and realized that I’d been working pretty hard. I hadn’t been unproductive. And the feeling that I’d displeased God with my laziness was just…wrong. And with that realization, the feeling evaporated.

Step Two is a Killer

Background - 3D notebook with the points marked in the list

There are eighteen inches between my head and my heart, but sometimes it feels like eighteen miles.

I’ve only recently started to comprehend that just because I know something, it doesn’t mean I believe it. Not in a way that affects my actions, anyway. For example, after twenty-odd years of knowing that God is trustworthy, I discovered that I Don’t Trust God. And last week I published a guest blog post claiming that I Don’t Want to Succeed, because true success is found in God. But was that really true? This week I’ve gotten frustrated with a lack of ‘success’ in my productivity, my writing and growing my author platform. Even though I should know better.

So what’s been missing? I’ve had the lightbulb moments; I have the knowledge necessary to change. That’s Step One. But as it turns out, that’s not enough. It’s Step Two that’s really the killer; I have to follow through with action.

Not rocket science, I know. It’s actually pretty obvious that change requires action. But I don’t think I’m alone in this situation—not by a long shot. Many people get stressed, lose their tempers, give in to negative thoughts, aim for the wrong goals… the list could go on. And I’m not talking about one-off incidents.These behaviors are consistent patterns in our lives. Yet we know we should trust God, count to ten, think positive and put God above all else.So what are we all missing? Step Two.

For me, Step Two involves not expecting knowledge to automatically translate into change. It means adjusting my thought patterns. And it requires recognition that this is not a five-second decision, then ‘poof’: I’ve changed. It’s a process, and it takes work. And that leads me to the all-important Step Three: asking God for help.

The Bible is clear; we are as capable as jellyfish in the desert on our own. But, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. (Phil 4:13 NKJV) Doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s possible. With God’s help, I can remind myself of His truth when I start to feel stressed or frustrated. I can take time out to spend with Him, let go of my worries, and replace them with peace. I can recognize negative thoughts when they start and hit them out of the park.

So what about you? Think for a minute. What is that thing you do that you wish you didn’t? Have you ever had an epiphany, but later realized that things are still the same? Maybe it’s time for Step Two. (And Three.)

I Am Here

Do you ever feel forgotten? Alone? Insignificant?

lonely child 5

Sitting in my office each day, typing out stories that no one has read yet, I do. And that adds pressure. I feel pressure to finish and get published as quickly as possible, so that all this effort will mean something. I want people to read my work and hopefully come closer to God. I want to accomplish His work and please Him.

And I’ll admit – though this doesn’t sound spiritual at all – I want to get paid. I love my part-time job and I feel like God is telling me to stay put and keep writing. But that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about the financial implications.

It looks like getting published will solve all these problems. But the other night, God reminded me of the truth.

I AM HERE.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my post, ‘Waiting, Self-Doubt and Heroes’, I talked about people in the Bible who have had to wait – Abraham, Joseph, David and Jesus included. Yet while I recognized that waiting is normal, even an honor, I still felt like I needed to accomplish some ‘success’ before God would be pleased with me. I felt like He wasn’t with me in the waiting.

I should have known better. Actually, I did know better – in my head. Sometimes it takes a while longer to trickle down into my heart.

Almost a week ago, God dropped this one on me: “I am here”. And now I feel so relieved. God is here now. Not when I get published, convert a friend or do some other good deed. He is beside me in the present. In the waiting. And if my heart is in the right place – seeking Him – then He is already pleased.

The implications are enormous. The pressure is off; I don’t need to rush. I can let go of my frantic drive to accomplish something and embrace His peace. And it’s good.

With my previous mindset, I was limiting God. I didn’t think He was working because I couldn’t see it. So I strove to get myself to a place where God would use me. And I ignored the fact that God’s work is often unseen, and that it is always happening. Even in the waiting.

So now I’ll ask for His help to remember His truth: He is always with me and is always working. And I’ll pray that He keeps showing me areas where I need more reminding.

Waiting, Self-Doubt and Heroes

You are wasting your time. No one will see or appreciate your work. You’re failing.

Photo by Alex E. Proimos, sourced from everystockphoto.com.
Photo by Alex E. Proimos, sourced from everystockphoto.com.

Even though I haven’t been consciously thinking those discouraging thoughts, they’ve definitely been on my mind over the past few weeks. Self-doubt has been infecting me. Quietly hovering on the edge of my subconscious, a general feeling of failure and foreboding has been like that sticky black goo that covers Peter Parker in Spiderman 3. Strong, dark, evil, and hard to get rid of.

Why?

Part of it is my addiction to affirmation. God’s weaning me off it, and this novel-writing venture is certainly stretching me. It will be a very long time before an agent, editor or reader tells me, “Good job!”. In the meantime I must plot, research, write, read, re-write, edit, edit, edit, re-write and so it goes on.

To put it simply, the waiting is frustrating. Alone at my computer, sometimes I feel insignificant, unworthy and foolish.

But then God reminded me of something I should have known all along: everyone has to wait.

Abraham stayed childless for decades. Joseph served time first as a slave, then as a prisoner. David was chased from cave to cave. Even Jesus spent years building tables and chairs. I’ll bet they were all tempted to feel forgotten, useless or alone. Yet when the time was right they founded nations, ruled empires and saved the universe.

The book of James opens with the words, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds”. (James 1:2 NIV, emphasis mine.) Pure joy? That’s right. Because God is teaching me perseverance; giving me maturity. Same as He did for them.

It’s a little humbling. Suddenly I almost feel proud that God is asking me to wait. I’m sharing in an experience that all the greatest men and women of faith have gone through. It’s an honour, really.

And so is God’s reminder in Psalm 139 that I’m not alone. Even when it’s been just me and my computer all day, God’s actually paying pretty close attention.

Blog 136 O LORD, You have searched me

and You know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

You perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

You are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

You know it completely, O LORD.

Psalm 139:1-4 NIV

 

How about you? How do you feel when you’re stuck waiting? What do you do about it?