The 4 a.m. Epiphany

4 am epiphany

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” –James 1:2-3 (New American Standard Bible)

I didn’t fully understand this scripture until recently. It didn’t make a lick of sense for anyone, me especially, to respond to trials and tribulations with joy. Yes, joy. Joy God?

Joy has such positive connotations and synonyms: happiness, elation, satisfaction, and glee. On the flip side, the word trial is synonymous with tests and assessments—words that can, an often do, send school children into a tizzy (some teachers too, but that’s another post for another day). To be quite honest, it seemed utterly asinine to respond to a single trial with any semblance of joy. But trials, plural? Really? I kept thinking: God? Are you serious? How could someone who was “taking a beating”—emotionally, physically, psychologically, etc. muster up the strength to smile? How could someone find the fortitude to express elation? How in the world could someone graft the grace to be gleeful?

After enduring the pain of heart break again and again, I asked God a simple question. Why? His answer: because you’re strong. Quite vehemently I replied. What? I’m strong? Well, there you have it. So, we should “consider it a sheer gift” when we are tested because it is a sign of what God sees in us, our strength to endure. That’s right, with each test and tribulation God is testing our ability to trust in Him. And when we don’t lose hope in the midst of these trials, we are gifted the ability to endure (the next eighty-two trials and tribulations).

We were each placed on this earth for a specific purpose. God, who is omniscient (all-knowing), knew (in the beginning) which of us would be able to handle the weight of life. His omniscience is evidenced in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14-29, Amplified Bible).

For it [the kingdom of heaven] is like a man who was about to take a long journey, and he called his servants together and entrusted them with his property. To one he gave five talents (probably about $5,000), to another two, to another one—to each in proportion to his own personal ability. Then he departed and left the country. He who had received five talents went at once and traded them, and he gained five talents more. And likewise he who had received two talents—he also gained two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those talents returned and settled accounts with them. And he who had received five talents came and brought him five more, saying, Master, you entrusted to me five talents; see, here I have gained five talents more. His master said to him, Well done, you upright (honorable, admirable) and faithful servant! You have been faithful and trustworthy over a little; I will put you in charge of much. Enter into and share the joy (the delight, the blessedness) which your master enjoys. And he also who had two talents came forward, saying, Master, you entrusted two talents to me; here I have gained two talents more. His master said to him, Well done, you upright (honorable, admirable) and faithful servant! You have been faithful and trustworthy over a little; I will put you in charge of much. Enter into and share the joy (the delight, the blessedness) which your master enjoys. He who had received one talent also came forward, saying, Master, I knew you to be a harsh and hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you had not winnowed (the grain). So I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is your own. But his master answered him, You wicked and lazy and idle servant! Did you indeed know that I reap where I have not sowed and gather (grain) where I have not winnowed? Then you should have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent away from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given, and he will be furnished richly so that he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does will be taken away.

And what does this scripture prove? I’m glad you asked. Here is what we must focus on in order for us not to lose hope (and express joy) in doing good for the sake of God (2 Thessalonians 13).

  1. The all-knowing God (like the Master in the parable) knows what we can handle
  2. God gives us that which we need in order to succeed/prosper, talents (literally and figuratively)
  3. We (God’s children) develop those talents
  4. God honors/blesses us for doing His will (being faithful)
  5. God doesn’t bless us when we operate out of fear and/or doubt His power and faithfulness

As I heal from this most recent heart ache 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (KJV) brings me joy.

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted by God.

Live blessed because you are!

Advertisements

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

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).

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?