Hurt People, Hurt People

While under the tutelage of Pastor Paula White I recall having heard her say (on several different occasions) that “Hurt people, hurt people.” The two clauses are profound. The first clause is fragmented and merely describes the collective’s condition; the second clause, while independent, succinctly expresses the actions of the collective. The irony is in the structuring of the statement; people who are hurting (those who are emotionally fragmented) inflict on others what has been done to them—perpetuating a cycle of dysfunction and proving that misery does in fact love company. Sad and yet true, I have come to realize that I am in the healing stages of being one such individual.

Let me first say that I don’t think that people intentionally act out for the purposes of hurting others, especially those with whom they are closest. However, hurting others does happen in the crossfires of their attempts at making sense of their world (or the collective “dream” that Don Miguel Ruiz references in his best-seller The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom). Having recently finished a second reading of the text at the suggestion of my hypnotherapist (yeah—I’ll be getting around to her later), I have come to the conclusion that:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”—Lao Tzu

 As one transforming from the emotional hurt unintentionally inflicted upon me, I earnestly believe these practical words from the esteemed Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu. If one who has been hurt no longer wants to hurt others, it merely takes one conscious step to begin the journey of recovery or transformation.

The closing of my last post referenced Romans 12:2 and serves as a springboard for todays. While many people prefer the King James Version of the bible, I myself, prefer The Message version for it’s simplistic language. So I will share both with you in an effort to be accommodating.

“And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” (KJV)

“(1) Don’t be so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. (2) Instead, fix your attention on God. (3) You’ll be changed from the inside out. (4) Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. (5) Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (The Message)

Yes, The Message version, while written in “plain English”, is longer, but is easier for me to digest and appropriate in my life. So let’s break it down.

  1. Sentence One: is imperative in its function. It is a command or request that cautions us against an uncontrolled mind and “running with the masses”. In her national best-seller Joyce Meyer notes in the introduction of Battlefield of the Mind, that:

Our actions are a direct result of our thoughts…[and] So many people’s problems are rooted in thinking patterns that actually produce the problems they experience in their lives…; [therefore] The more you change your mind for the better, the more your life will also change for the better.

All that said, we have been mandated by God to transform our thoughts in a manner that will lead us to a place of freedom and out of bondage.

  1. Sentence Two: also imperative in function, calls us to fix our attention on God. No, I wouldn’t say that our every thought should be about God (the being or spirit), but of the things of God, namely His word. I cannot tell you how much I have struggled to keep my mind on God (not so much in a literal sense, but in the sense of doing the great command—loving those as He loves us (unconditionally).
  2. Sentence Three: informs us of the benefits of such actions. In it we see the effects. If we are non-conformist to popular culture and thinking, and our thoughts are God-ward, then we shall be changed internally. And as we are being changed internally, our actions will be the evidence of those changes.
  3. Sentence Four: is a return to the imperative, and urges us to be cognizant of what God desires of us and to urgently take action.
  4. The Fifth and Final Sentence: serves as a reminder of the difference between those who are bound by their “unenlightenment” and those of us who are being transformed. With knowledge of the truth we (the enlightened) are developing a spiritual maturity that sets us apart from those who lack the knowledge to be the best version of self.

So where am I going with all of this? In the words of Bishop T.D. Jakes, “I’m glad you asked!” Today I had my first hypnotherapy session (told you I’d get around to this). It was marvelous, freeing, therapeutic and enlightening. Because I am by nature inquisitive and curious, I quickly decided that this form of psychotherapy deserved a “look-see” after I stumbled upon an advertisement in a local magazine less than a week ago. Given the fact that I have hurt people as a hurt person, I knew that I needed to make changes in my life. As one who grew up in a religiously spiritual family, I was taught at a young age to “pray about it.” But just praying about my mental and emotional dis-ease hasn’t yielded the breakthroughs that are necessary for real transformation. Yes, in years past I have made efforts at renewing my mind, but again, my previous efforts haven’t brought me to a place of sustained peace; thus my desperation for trying another alternative, hypnotherapy. Regardless of your personal belief system, I know that prayer alone was not going to get me to where I have desired to be, in perfect peace. And since faith without works (action) is dead (James 2:17), I have chosen to engage in this alternative form of therapy so that I can:

“Be the change that I wish to see in the world”—Mahatma Gandhi

The session began with us talking about the book (The Four Agreements) that she (I’ll call her Sarah) suggested I read during the consultation three days prior. I got out the journal I had purchased specifically for thoughts related to these therapy sessions, and I went to town talking about my “take aways” and the quotes that “spoke to my spirit”. Intermittently, Sarah shared her insights as a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist. I appreciated her listening ear, but more so appreciated her candid honesty about the conscious act of re-reading the book about every six months. I was immediately taken aback by her statement. As an English teacher I understand the importance of rereading. I urge my students to read and reread as an act of becoming a better reader, a more conscious analyzer, but I haven’t always walked the walk. Don’t get me wrong; there are some books (You Can Pull Down Strongholds And Break Old Habits by Pastor Casey Treat) that I have read upwards of four times. I suppose I was in awe of Sarah’s statement because I have tended to pull the previously mentioned title off the shelf when “I’m desperate for a change”. Her act of purposefully rereading The Four Agreements every six months is a conscious act of continued transformation, and that has seemingly been lost to me in years past. Our talk continued as I mentioned conversations I had had with friends the past week. I told her about the notebook I’d created with positive confessions that I recite. And I even shared with her how I had allowed myself to be vulnerable in front of my students by writing them individual heart-felt letters that I distributed to them on the last day of school.

“Wow! You’ve made a great deal of progress in a short amount of time.”

“Yes. I’m serious about this. And I’m excited about it too. I don’t want to waste this experience.”

And that’s when we got down to more serious business. Calmly, she asked me the following question, “So where do you want to begin?”

I took a deep breathe; “I think the best place to start is with my self-loathing tendencies”.

While there is certainly more to the session, I will save the rest for another time. What matters most is that I have reached a place, emotionally and psychologically, where I no longer desire to hurt people with my words and actions (you know, those things that originate as thoughts), I have taken the first steps in the journey of my transformation (personal evolution). I live in the reality that this journey may not be easy; it may at times be uncomfortable and arduous. And for these reasons, I have to remind myself of wise words that I coined just a few days ago:

“Maturity is about doing what must be done despite one’s obvious desire for something less ‘confrontational’”—Me 

My transformation “cocktail” includes (Please know that I use the word “cocktail” with utmost respect):

  1. Prayer
  2. Positive Confessions
  3. Reflection
  4. Reading (and re-reading books)
  5. Hypnotherapy

Undoubtedly, our words have power and impact those around us. And as such, we are charged with spreading love and not hate with them.

“Your word is the most powerful tool you have as a human; it is the tool of magic.”

Don Miguel Ruiz

from The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

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No Guarantees

Now burgeoning on the age of thirty-nine I have to ask myself why I’m still a single, unmarried woman. Over the course of my adult life I have had ample opportunities to connect with men in an effort to progress the relationship to a more permanent status–marriage. Nevertheless, not one of my previous relationships has yielded the outcome I’ve desired for countless years. My “current situation” has left me perplexed, a little bitter, and somewhat reluctant to try again.

After each failed attempt at a lasting love I take the time to reflect over my actions with the hopes of finally achieving the “eureka” moment where the light bulb comes on and my life is forever changed because I now know the malaise that has kept me from obtaining what I so longingly desire—a permanent love connection with a man. But that hasn’t been my truth because I keep finding myself pacing around the same tree.

Just recently the man that I had been dating (with the intent of progressing the relationship to something permanent) broke up with me. No, this wasn’t the first time a man had dumped me, but that certainly didn’t make the loss any less traumatic. You see, when I met him I had plans to leave the country. I was on my way to Dubai because there was nothing and no one (male counterpart) keeping me here. And while I will admit that I didn’t expect to catch feelings for him, I didn’t stop myself from doing so. With each passing day and the interactions that ensued, I soon found myself falling for him—something I hadn’t done in nearly four years. My lack of falling for a man wasn’t so much about my lack of desire, as it was about my lack of connectivity with the men with which I had been interacting. At any rate, after falling for this man I made the decision that the possibility of love with him here was more enticing than the opportunity to live and work abroad. I soon contacted the director of the institution for which I planned to work and was subsequently released from my contract. Later that day I sent the following email to the man for whom I had recently fallen.

In just a short time you have captivated my heart. You awoke something inside me—the possibility of love. I have been in search of love all my life and it has always seemed to elude me. And when I had all but given up on the possibility, you walked into my life. You’ve ignited a passion inside me—a passion to love fully, completely and without condition. I am not asking anything of you, but that you are invested in building a future. I’m not interested in just “dating”; I want to try and build something permanent. I am aware that there are no guarantees when it comes to love, but I can guarantee that if I stay, you have my heart and my full attention. I want to stay because my heart is with you. I want to stay because the possibility of love is much more enticing than leaving this country. I want to stay…because I want you.

Now, before you cast judgment, let’s consider a thing or three. Some people might think that my decision to stay was rash and foolish.   To some degree I would concur with those individuals. Still others might consider my decision to be nostalgically romantic. And to those individuals I too would agree to an extent. Nevertheless, at the end of the day I have to embrace the decision that was made and move forward without regret(s). After all, I did state in the email to my beloved that “I am aware that there are no guarantees when it comes to love…I want to stay because the possibility of love is much more enticing than leaving this country.” Like the lyrics in the Chico Debarge song “No Guarantee”, I was essentially saying, “But I know exactly what I wanna do/I wanna make this work with you, yeah…[but] Nothing in life is guaranteed”. I knew what I was getting myself into; I knew that the relationship (which was relatively new) wasn’t destined to last. But I took the chance on him, and I took a chance on love because I wanted love more than I wanted the job opportunity.  And maybe the idea of taking a chance at love, instead of closing my heart, wasn’t such a bad decision to make after all. In the end every experience (blissful and/or sorrowful) teaches us something.

While the sting of the loss is new, there is a sense of peace that I currently feel because I am respecting his wishes and I have left him alone. I will not lie to you, or myself, and say that I don’t want him back; I do. But I refuse to be one of those women who won’t let go. I will not be one of those women who makes every attempt to insert herself into a man’s life because the idea of living without him is greater than the idea of once again being alone. Besides I’ve already tried to convince him otherwise and that failed attempt didn’t dissuade him to change his mind. Yeah, that’s right. I shed tears; I begged and pleaded for him to reconsider, and at the end of the day (yesterday in fact) he didn’t budge, so I walked out of his residence licking my wounds. After I had finally calmed down, I resolved in my spirit to seek God’s face and to give the man that I love space to determine if a life without me is better than a life with me.

Again, here is what I’ve chosen to do. I’ve chosen to dry my eyes and seek the face of God. The irony in all this is that I’ve been on the run from God because I couldn’t understand how the last man I’d fallen for could end an eighteen-month relationship with me, and just three weeks later propose to another woman. Crazy right? Yes, that’s my “ish”. Anywho, here I am (ironically) running to the face of God for solace–once again because of yet another disappointing attempt at lasting love.

However, here is the conclusion I have drawn from this last disappointing outcome. I know; wait for it! Yes, I have finally reached a point where an epiphany of sorts has entered my cranium. The light bulb is vibrant and brilliant. And the crowd collectively sighs! Nearly every time a man has shown interest in me I lose my head. I never stop to consult God about the man’s intentions or whether he would be good for me and not just good to me. Never have I stopped and prayed for discernment before I got wrapped up in the moment, in the man. Yep, that’s right. History has shown that I lose all sense of control when a man expresses interest and I reciprocate his interest. Worse still, I fold into a nice little napkin that he can trample over. I get so caught up in the idea of love and a lasting relationship that I become the proverbial doormat. Instead of maintaining my rough exterior, I melt and turn into this woman who will do whatever it takes to make the relationship profitable. I stop being inherently who I am—the fiercely outspoken and independent woman because I want to cast aside the stain of being a super-single (thirty-eight year old woman who has never been engaged or married).

Despite my formal education, I have been stuck on stupid (SOS). I recognize that relationships are work. I get the fact that nothing is promised to last forever. But I want to embark upon a relationship that defies the mundane. Perhaps I am delusional about the prospect of a lasting love where two people respect each other and make a conscious decision, each day, to work together instead of separately. I thought I had been doing that with each relationship, but maybe I wasn’t. Perhaps I was deluding myself into believing that I was making conscious attempts at working in tandem with each man for whom I had fallen. The last man I fell for said that the decisions I made lacked the consideration of his feelings. I countered that his decisions and plans rarely, if ever, did the same.

I’ve tried to rationalize my actions as well as his. But nothing seems to matter because one of us got fed up to the point that it seemed best to walk away. I want to believe that he’ll come to his senses and realize that despite the bad we experienced there was more good to latch onto, and he’ll come back to me. I am not going to hold my breath waiting. I am going to get myself together so that the next time a man shows interest I don’t lose sight of God. I will use discernment and wisdom to determine if he is for me or for someone else.

Undoubtedly, I’ve been charged to “…not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of my mind [to God’s word]—Romans 12:2

I Lost God; He Didn’t Lose Me

People lose all sorts of things: keys, money, books, track of time, socks, memories, games (contests), their minds, etc. Funny thing (in an ironic sort of way)—I seemed to have lost God somewhere over the past year. I know it sounds like an extremely strange statement, but it’s my truth. I’ve never spoken with someone who claims to have lost God, but I’ve had countless conversations with people who have lost one or more of the aforementioned items. Nevertheless, over the course of a year I have lost God—lost my ability to talk to God, to feel His presence in my life, to believe in/have faith in God, to pray to/speak to God, to meditate on His inspired word, to commune with other believers, to trust His word(s)—in short, I’ve simply lost Him.

 

And yet here I am wondering: is it even possible to lose God? Seriously, if we take God’s inspired word, The Bible, as Truth, then perhaps I’m delusional in thinking that I’ve lost God. But bear with me as I attempt to rationalize my current situation. In The Message translation of the bible, Deuteronomy 31:6 states:

 

“Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them [doubts, circumstances, setbacks, shortcomings] a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.”

 

If God, my God (because at one point in time I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior), is striding ahead of me, is right there (here) with me, how can I have lost Him? But I’m being real here, being completely honest and transparent.

 

I have lost God.

 

If I accept Deuteronomy 31:6 as Truth, then God hasn’t left me, hasn’t lost me—I’m the one in this relationship who has lost Him. And yes, it is a relationship. Despite the fact that I cannot touch God like I touch/feel other human beings, cannot have a conversation with Him as I do other human beings, cannot see Him like I see other human beings (or can I?), that doesn’t necessarily negate His presence, nor his being real. Yet and still, therein lies my dilemma. I want to believe God’s word. I want to believe that the words of the “Good Book” are true, but much of what I have seen and/or experienced over the course of my existence on this planet has left me questioning the truth of His word.

 

Let’s get back to business. If God is all and in all, then God is everywhere. And if God is everywhere, how can it be that I have lost Him? Again, let’s look at what His word says. Colossians 1:16-17 in the King James Version (KJV) reads:

 

“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”

 

Again, let’s break this down. If God is the creator of all things (present in heaven and earth, visible and invisible), then He exists in all things and that means that God is more than a “presence” one feels in a church (house of worship) and there is more than one way to feel him, see him, commune with him, to know Him.

 

But I have lost God.

 

Seemingly out of nowhere, I broke down in tears this afternoon in the midst of a conversation I was having with a close friend (in her car of all places—I guess where shouldn’t matter, but it was just odd how it all happened). She was sharing her walk with me when the flood of tears escaped my eyes. We were reflecting on life, being raw, being honest about our feelings when I simply allowed my truth to come out. I said:

 

“I’ve lost my way; I’ve lost my peace and I don’t know how to get it back.”

 

My friend looked me in the eye and said something that touched my heart more than she may ever know. She said . . .

 

“We all have to find our own way to God.”

 

Such simple words, but words with such a great impact. She went on to say that she has found God in nature and in a fiction book. She told me about this book that she had once read. The book, The Shack, by William Paul Young, had forever changed her relationship with God, had changed her life. And it was then that something inside me “broke”. All my life I had been trying to find the magic formula to make situations and circumstances in my life bend to my will. I would look at a person and try to figure out why things had seemingly come together for them and pattern my attempts at life after theirs. Still yet, I would gaze upon another and try to emulate their formula and all to no avail. My friend was right; we all have to find our own way to God. We all have to find our own path to peace and perhaps that peace doesn’t come instantaneously, or after a confession to a priest, or after our first, second, or ninety-fifth prayer to God. Perhaps our path to peace, our path to God happens after a lengthy uphill trudge full of stops and tasks along the way.

 

So here’s my truth: I’ve lost God. But I’ve heard that it only takes one step to once again find him.

 

Maybe I’ll find him in the midst of meditation (another suggestion from my great friend), maybe I’ll find him in His word, maybe I’ll find him in nature, maybe I’ll find him in a work of fiction, maybe I’ll find him in the spirit of another human being. Right now it matters more that I find Him and not so much where it is that I find him. Today, I’ve made the decision to seek Him; won’t you do the same? Isaiah 55:6 (The Message) urges us to:

 

“Seek God while he’s here to be found, pray to him while he’s close at hand.”

 

So despite the fact that I’ve lost God, I am going to do everything possible to find him.

 

One last thing. Before my friend drove off today she said that we (she and I) were going to commit to verbalizing His word even when we don’t completely feel it with our whole heart. Though I seemed to have lost God, I’m going to try and find my way back to him through His word. And if that doesn’t lead me to him, I will try another route. Truth is, I’m determined to find my way back to him and I won’t give up until I’ve found the peace that is associated with knowing Him.

 

I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but I’m trusting that:

 

“. . . the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your [my] hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (KJV).

Hear My Call

On Jill Scott’s Light of the Sun CD is a track titled “Hear My Call”. It spoke to my spirit during a recent morning jog. It begins:

Here I am again asking questions,

 

A few Saturdays ago I awoke around 6:20 a.m.  No, it’s not exactly normal for a Saturday. But then again, I’m not exactly “normal”. Still dark outside, I attempted to go back to sleep for at least another hour or so. But something kept me up. So I began talking to God, praying for those near and dear to my heart, and asking God questions: Lord, why do I keep compromising? Why is it that I seem to be unable to stay the course? How is it that I find myself backpedaling? Why do I keep settling for men whose intentions are temporal and not directed towards permanence? Why do I move so quickly? Why can’t I hold out? When God, when?

Once again I wondered how I had found myself in a situation that I had sworn I’d never return. It’s amazing how life provides us with exactly what we need despite our best efforts at fleeing and evading the lesson(s).    

Waiting to be moved.
I am so unsure of my perception,
What I thought I knew I don’t seem to

 

There seem to be too many instances when I thought I knew what I wanted or needed. I thought I knew better than God who and what was right or wrong for my life. And then a revelation would come and I would once again realize that I was deluding myself, or worse, delaying the inevitable—and perhaps delaying my destiny.

 

 

Where is the turn so I can get back to what I believe in?
Back to the old me and

 

I am yearning to get back to the old me. I long to be that woman who wasn’t afraid to ask for exactly what she wanted. I want to once again be that woman who was bold enough to stand alone—confident and secure in my womanhood—with or without a man in my life. I yearn to be that woman who didn’t allow life’s circumstances to callous and harden her spirit. I want to get back to the old me who smiled more than frowned—the old me who laughed so robustly and without regard. I want to get back . . .

 

[Chorus]
God, please hear my call.
I am afraid for me.
Love has burned me raw
I need your healing
Please, please, please.

[Verse 2]
I am such a fool
How did I get here?

 

There have been too many instances when I’ve played the fool—by my own hands mostly. I cannot in good consciousness blame others for my shortcomings. Sure enough, they played a role in the “experience”, but inevitably, I have to own up to my own actions. I, like Jill Scott am asking, “How did I get here?” Yes, here! Here as in–a place where I complain more than count my blessings. Here as in—a place where I allow life’s setbacks to disrupt my mood.   Here as in—a place where I stopped believing in my dreams and my ability to actualize them. Here . . .

 

Played by all the rules
Then they changed
I am but a child to your vision

 

It seems that I too “Played by all the rules [or at least what I thought were the rules]/Then they changed”. The dynamics between men and women have drastically changed. One minute I question whether I’m too aggressive; the next minute I can’t decide if I’m not aggressive enough. And here I am though. Here I am persevering. Here I am fighting against adversity. Here I am–desiring more than the life I’ve been living. Here I am God. Here I am . . .  

 

Standing in the cold and the rain
Lost here in the dark
I can’t see my foot to take a step,
What is happening?
Oh, this hurts so bad. I can hardly breathe.
I just want to leave so…

 

When it comes to this “dating” thing I am standing in the cold and the rain—wondering.   And then sometimes it seems like I’m lost in the dark and I’m questioning what is happening. What aren’t things working out despite my best efforts and intentions? And again God, “What is happening?” The sting of disappointment hurts so bad I want to leave the pain behind. The result: I’ve lost my ability to breathe. And again . . .

 

[Chorus]
God, please hear my call.
I am afraid for me.
Love has burned me raw
I need your healing
Please,
God, please hear my call.
I am afraid for me.
Love has burned me raw
I need your healing
Please, please, oh, please, please.

 

God, if you’re there, please hear my call . . . I need to feel your presence; I need your healing.  Please . . .

Got Faith?

“Yes, I’ve got to have faith . . .” are the words that end the popular 80’s song “Faith” by George Michael. These are telling words, prolific words in fact.  I too have got to have faith. But it seems that I’ve lost my way . . . lost my faith?  My faith has been, and may always be, a questionable matter (and that pains me). In the past decade or so my endurance in this race has been challenged in a number of ways, on a number of levels, and a number of times.

In the bible there is scripture that points out that, “Knowing this, the trying of your faith works patience,” (James 1:3).  If this is in fact true, I have gained a great deal of patience over the years.  I am also familiar with Hebrews 11:1 which reads, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” There have been times in my life where I have been extremely hopeful.  There have likewise been moments when I couldn’t capture an ounce a hope to cup in my hands.  And finally, there is Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”  Herein lies my true dilemma. As an individual who was raised to “fear God” (reverence God) I have struggled with this concept of faith for nearly all of my waking life.  Has my lack of faith or intermittent faithlessness displeased God?  On a conscious level I believe that God is real, but there are moments when I question His presence in my life.

Perhaps my problem is that I lack the diligence to seek God. If I think about my spiritual “walk”, I have to ask myself: have I been walking with God?  Do I commune with Him daily?  Do I seek His face with a heart and demeanor that desires nothing in return but the feeling of His love, forgiveness, and devotion?  Honestly?  I cannot in good conscience claim that I seek God’s face faithfully. There are, and certainly have been, moments when I have walked far from God.  And conversely, there have been moments when I have seemingly been in stride with God.  There are days when prayer is the last thing on my mind.  And then there are days when I am thrust upon my knees.  There are undoubtedly moments when I ponder God’s presence.

Why?  You ask.  I question if He is real because of all that I have ingested from the Bible, what I have heard from one pastor, preacher, evangelist, etc., and from what I have experienced in life. Take Psalm 37:4 as an example. It reads, “Delight thyself in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”  If I take the logical approach, it seems that all I would need to do in order to actualize the desires of my heart is to delight myself in the Lord God.  But what does that really mean?  Does it mean that I walk around 24-7 spouting that I’m delighted to know God?  Or is it something more?  I’ve cross-referenced the KJV with The Message translation and this is how The Message reads, “Get assurance with God and do a good deed, settle down and stick to your last.”  Honestly, I’m even more confused.  How does one get assurance with God?  Is it through prayer?  Through communing with God? Is it through reading and confessing His inspired word?  The translation says to “do a good deed”, but what qualifies as a good deed? And is there a quantity attached to the number of deeds required before my heart’s desires are actualized/realized? Now if “assurance with God” comes through faith—this substance of things I hope for and the evidence of what I don’t see, then my faith must grow in order for me to please God and then receive the desires of my heart—at least logically that is the conclusion I have drawn.

So let’s take this conundrum a step further.  Let’s look at Romans 10:17 which reads, “. . . faith comes by hearing, and hearing the word of God.” Okay, in order for my faith to grow perhaps I have not heard enough, heard enough of God’s word. I’m torn again. I grew up in church. I grew up hearing some man or woman [of God] share his or her interpretation of the Bible which is “God’s inspired word to man”.  I grew up hearing my grandmother’s and mother read from their Bibles.  And I have heard, heard God’s words for all these many years, yet why is my faith, my faith in God, called into question time and again? Why do I doubt that He will give me the desires of my heart?  Why do I wonder if he has heard my petitions?  Why God? Why?

Today, I posed a question to a group of students who had been reading a book, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, about a Rwandan woman’s survival of the 1994 genocides that rocked her country. Here is what I asked four 8th graders, “Does it take an experience like Immaculee’s (surviving genocide) in order to meet God face to face—grow your faith?” I too had been reading the book alongside my students. And while I had been reading the harrowing experience this woman went through, it seemed that my faith kept being called to the carpet.  One at a time they each shared their personal thoughts.  The consensus: perhaps it does take a life-altering experience for our faith to grow and develop.  I looked at one of the girls and said rather plaintively, “I would hope to never have to experience genocide in order for my faith to grow.” I went on to state that I wanted a spiritual experience like Immaculee Ilbagiza (the author of the book and genocide survivor).  “Here dream was so vivid,” I said as I recalled the dream Immaculee had regarding her murdered family after she had made peace with their deaths and forgiven their Hutu killers. Immaculee had great faith throughout her ordeal.  She prayed and sought God daily while hiding from Hutu tribesmen who sought to rid Rwanda of its Tutsi population.  And it seemed that her seeking God made all the difference for her survival amidst the genocide.

  • She sought God and He protected them from being detected in the Hutu pastor’s bathroom for three months
  • She sought God and avoided being attacked on the road by a throng of Hutu killers wielding machetes
  • She sought God and obtained a job working for the United Nations
  • She sought God and married the man she petitioned God for

 

I too want(ed) my faith to grow and expand to the point that it is more than positive thinking, but a deep-seated intrinsic “knowing”. As the group’s discussion transitioned, I found myself moved for two reasons. One, I was so very much impressed with the level of analysis the students had with regards to the text and the concept of genocide.  All too often we Americans take things (experiences) for granted.  But more importantly, these four young adults had made such poignant remarks about humanity that I was nearly moved to tears. And all the while I kept questioning my faith.  Where is my faith?  I’ve got to have faith!

So I am posing a question to anyone who doesn’t mind answering.

 

How do I grow my faith?

The Power of Prayer

“Their minds had been infected with the evil [propaganda] that had spread across the country [Rwanda], but their [Hutu extremists] souls weren’t evil.  Despite the atrocities, they were children of God, and I could forgive a child, although it would not be easy . . . especially when that child was trying to kill me . . . That night I [Immaculee Ilibagiza] prayed with a clear conscience and a clean heart.  For the first time since I entered the bathroom [genocide “sanctuary”], I slept in peace.”

–from Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiz (with Steve Erwin)

I read the words and felt immediate conviction.  Perhaps my inability to sleep soundly (without waking at the slightest sound or movement) is directly related to my efforts (or lack thereof) in praying for others.  Sure enough I have a prayer life.  At times I have been more fervent than others with my prayers.  But I’m talking about praying from a deep place within.  I’m talking about praying for more than myself, the safety and well being of my friends and family; I’m talking about praying for those who have brought anguish and pain to my doorstep.

When I was younger I was often confused by the language found in my bible (King James Version), I sought to know The Word, but found myself struggling to make sense of the unfamiliar string of phrases.  As I grew older I found solace in the myriad of translations that were made available.  I still read from the King James Version, but now I find clarity in reading from the Amplified Bible as well as The Message translation.

Luke 6:27-28 (KJV) calls us to “. . . Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.”

The Amplified Bible translation of the same verses reads, “But I say to you who are listening now to Me: [in order to heed, make it a practice to] love your enemies, treat well (do good to, act nobly toward) those who detest you and pursue you with hatred, Invoke blessings upon and pray for the happiness of those who curse you, implore God’s blessing (favor) upon those who abuse you [who revile, reproach, disparage, and high-handedly misuse you].”

The Message translation of Luke 6:27-30 notes, “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies.  Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.  When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person.  If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it.  If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it.  If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life.  No more tit-for-tat stuff.  Live generously.”

That call to action can seem like a pretty tall order when you are carrying the load of hurt, pain, anguish, hatred, and/or malice in your heart.  Just recently I began reading the book Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by genocide survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza.  Ilibagiza tells the harrowing truth of how she survived the genocide that ripped through her homeland of Rwanda in 1994.  The text is not typically one I pick off the shelf; decidedly so, I have been on a science fiction high as of late.  Nevertheless, I just began a unit of study with my 8th grade students on the challenge of social justice.  While the unit of study initially called for the students to form literature circles and read about the Holocaust of European Jews, my school’s media specialist and I made the executive decision to expand the readings to explore stories of global genocide (fiction and non-fiction).  We found half-dozen-or-so titles that cover acts of genocide from across the globe and spanning the past eighty years.  Ilibagiza’s Left to Tell is one of the books on my student’s list.

By now you may be wondering where I’m going with all this.  It’s actually rather simple.  When I reached part two of the text, “In Hiding”, I was confronted with a harsh reality similar to that of Immaculee Ilibagiza—a heart that contained hurt, hatred, and unforgiveness.  At this point in the text Immaculee is hiding in a small bathroom in the house of a sympathizing Hutu pastor in her village.  One of six women in the cramped space, Immaculee comes face to face with the reality that she must forgive, and pray for the souls of the Hutu extremists hell-bent to rid Rwanda of the Tutsi tribal minority they believe are out to gain control over the government.

The conviction hit me square in my chest.  How could I continue to harbor feelings of unforgiveness (hatred and malice) and not pray for those who have despitefully used me, when this woman who suffered a far worse experience, was able to do so in the midst of her turmoil?  Right then and there I put down the book and began to pray for those individuals who I felt had wronged me over the course of my life.  I prayed for God to forgive me for the things I had said and done to hurt others.  I prayed, not because I so desperately want a night full of peaceful sleep (earnestly I do), but because I want a life of peace.  We have been given life in an effort to make the world we live in better.  Each one of us has something to say and/or do that will leave this world better off, not worse off.

Despite the fact that Immaculee Ilibagiza went through a living hell in Rwanda, she has been able to use her experience to heal a country–a world that is fractured.  I have been moved by her experience.  Though I have not yet finished the book, I am looking forward to the additional lessons–morals that it holds for me.

Every book that I read leaves me different.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a work of fiction or non-fiction; I am never the same person after the book is finished.  The same is true about the individuals who bless us with their presence.  Every friendship changes me.  Every experience of love (breath taking and heart wrenching) has changed me. I firmly believe that we should take away something positive from every person, every experience we encounter—good and bad.

I’ve been challenged to live differently, to pray differently.

What “take aways” have you gleaned from acquaintances, books, enemies, experiences, friends, family, movies, songs, etc?

Home Training

Proverbs 22:6 (KJV) reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

This weekend I spent thirty hours in the presence of girls ranging in age from 5-14.  While being around kids isn’t anything new to me, what was new was being around children who seemingly had no “home training.”  For the most part, many of the girls were well behaved.  However, there were instances where I wanted to literally haul off and give one of the teenagers a piece of my mind.

Yes, I said “home training”.  I am old school in certain respects (pun intended), and this is one of them.  I firmly believe that children need to stay in their place.  No, you shouldn’t blindly accept everything you hear, and no, you shouldn’t trust just anyone.  But when it comes to adults and people in positions of authority, I believe that children should show some respect.

Maybe it’s me.  But it seems that a portion of today’s youth have lost their sense of respect for their elders and for authority figures.  Take this scenario for instance.  If a rule is given that you shouldn’t bring your electronic device to camp and you not only have it out in the presence of an adult, but go so far as to use it in their presence, should you not expect to be reprimanded for breaking a rule?  Nope.  One child had the never to roll her eyes, suck her teeth and continue her phone conversation.  I was not only appalled; I was ready to give her a piece of my mind.  But I held my tongue because of two reasons.  One, I just met the child that day and had no rapport with her.  Two, I didn’t want to make a bad impression on my superiors given the fact that I am brand new to the organization.

Seriously.  What are parents teaching their children?  Are parents teaching their children?  Or are they expecting “teaching” to only take place at school?  I know I may get some negative feedback because I’m not a parent, but seriously though, is there any instruction being given at home with regards on how to speak to, and interact with adults, because some of the girls I was around this weekend seemed to think we were on the same level.  Granted, we may have been on the same height level, but don’t let my youthful look and petit frame fool you into believing you can disrespect me.

I’m curious.  What happened to the respect?  How and when did we get to a place in our lives where we stopped saying “please” and “thank you”?  When did it become acceptable to refer to your parents by their first names?  At what point did it become “normal” to openly violate rules and challenge authority in response to possible consequences?

I am in no way faultless; I was far from being a perfect child.  However, I knew to respect the elders in my family and community.  I wouldn’t dare respond to an adult’s request with “Who you think you talking to?”  But that is what I see and hear all too often these days.  If we think about the message in Proverbs 22:6, we (collectively—parents and adults who regularly interact with children) are training our children to act, behave, and react in specific ways in their adult lives based upon what we teach them (or the lack thereof) in their youth.

So here are my questions: How do we get it back?  Yes, how do we get back to the days and times when children showed respect and reverence to adults and authority figures?  What have we lost along the way?  And can we find it again and bring it back?

What say you?

When God Kisses You

“What were the things that romanced your heart as a girl?”

For me it was:

  •  A good book
  • Pretty flowers
  • My father’s undivided attention
  • Finding a bargain (while out shopping)
  • An encouraging word from my mother

For the past week or so I have been reading Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul by John and Stasi Eldredge.  Today however, I began the chapter titled “Romanced”.  After the section where the co-authors shared anecdotal accounts of how they had been “romanced” by God, I began thinking about recent instances when God had been romancing me.  When we talk about being “romanced” by God, it equates to those moments when God “woos” us—times when his love and pursuit of our hearts is revealed through earthly majesty.

John and Stasi Eldredge further noted that, “Every song you love, every memory you cherish, every moment that has moved you to holy tears has been given to you from the One who has been pursuing you from your first breath in order to win your heart.  God’s version of flowers and candlelight dinners comes in the form of sunsets and falling stars, moonlight on lakes and cricket symphonies; warm wind, swaying trees, lush gardens, and fierce devotion.  This romancing is immensely personal.  It will be as if it has been scripted for your heart.  He knows what takes your breath away, knows what makes your heart beat faster.”

God just kissed me on Friday, January 31st when one of my 3rd period students turned in an extra credit assignment.  First off, I rarely provide students with “extra credit” opportunities.  I firmly believe that if he or she gives enough time and attention to the assigned work, there would be no need for extra credit.  However, I’ve been doing some educational research on motivation and thought that providing random extra credit assignments may motivate some students to take advantage of their education.  At any rate, the objective was for the students to transform a letter they had recently written in a previous assignment.  The letter the students wrote was a persuasive letter to their parents in which they attempted to get their parents to change their mind about a decision, rule, restriction or ideology through the inclusion of the three persuasive appeals: logos, ethos, and pathos.  For the extra credit assignment students had to change their role/perspective as a writer, alter their intended audience, and change the format/writing mode.  With all that said, the 3rd period student’s letter had been transformed to an invitation.  It wasn’t some Microsoft Publisher crafted document; it was hand made with an embossed wax label.  When he handed it to me my face lit up.  After class ended I picked up the invitation once again and marveled at the detail and precision with which the student had crafted his assignment.  As an educator I strive to impress upon my students that taking the initiative is an impressive trait.  I also want them to understand that the quality of their work speaks volumes to their personal character and is a reflection of who they are inherently.  When this young man not only turned in a thoughtfully prepared product, but had also done so before the due date; I was moved to tears.  This was one of those instances that had brought me into the teaching profession.  Without realizing it (at that moment in time), I had been kissed by God.  A student had taken the initiative and gone above and beyond the general expectations—God had kissed me, romanced my heart.

While the euphoria of God’s kiss has swelled my heart, I have come to realize why the ending of my last romantic relationship was so emotionally crippling for me.  For fourteen months I had been courted—I was taken care of financially, I was treated like a lady, I had satisfying conversations with my mate, I and my mate shared of our spirituality, I had been romanced, and for a time–I had been the singular object of one man’s affection and attention.  It was God’s kiss, God’s way of romancing me through another earthly vessel.  And then it abruptly ended.  To this day I long to be courted once more.  For during those fourteen months I was ablaze and alive.  Nevertheless, I understand why the man I loved chose another woman—but that’ll have to wait for another entry—“The Unveiling of a Woman’s Beauty”.  Until then, here are some additional profound statements from John and Stasi Eldredge’s book.  Ladies, if you haven’t read the book Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul by John and Stasi Eldredge, please do.  It will open your eyes of understanding.

Notable “Nuggets” from John and Stasi Eldredge:

  • “You are meant to fill a place in the heart of God no one and nothing else can fill.”
  • “ . . . he [God] wants your obedience, but only when it flows out of a heart filled with love for him.”
  • “God delights in revealing himself to those who will seek him with all their hearts.”
  • “We have missed many of his notes simply because we shut our hearts down in order to endure the pain of life.”
  • “God has been wooing you ever since you were a little girl.”
  • “A woman becomes beautiful when she knows she’s loved.”
  • “As women we long to be loved in a certain way, a way unique to our femininity.”
  • “ . . . he [God] will thwart our efforts to find life apart from him . . .”
  • “He [God] often takes us aside from every other source of comfort so that he alone can have our heart’s attention.”
  • “Our hearts yearn to be loved intimately, personally, and yes, romantically . . . to be the object of desire and affection of one who is totally and completely in love with us.”
  • “Worship is what we give our hearts away to in return for a promise of Life.”
  • “No, to be spiritual is to be in a Romance with God.”
  • “The desire to be romanced lies deep in the heart of every woman.  It is for such that you were made.  And you are romanced, and ever will be.”

PS: Chyla, thank you for recommending this book.  I love you girl!