In Observation of Lent
I have unplugged from Facebook for Lent. Being someone who is in recovery from an eating disorder, using food as a means for fasting is never a wise choice. Because, you might not know this about people with eating disorders, but we can nail the depriving ourselves thing really really well. Too well. That’s not helpful, nor is it spiritual and pardon my French, but it sure as hell defeats the purpose. That is straight up (but figuratively) feeding the devil that lives within us. We can out not eat anyone. Huh?
Anyway, I notice a few things immediately when I put Facebook down:
- I look at my phone less. Well, first it starts with staring at my phone, but finding nothing useful to do with it. Then I start getting caught up on current events (the ones that I can stomach), but that gets old quick. And, eventually, I’m not picking it up as much anymore, because I’m not nearly as attached to it.
- Facebook has given me a need for validation that did not previously exist before. Well, I think we all need validation on some level, but Facebook feeds our validation need, until it becomes a monster. Think circa 1980’s musical Little Shop of Horrors. The need for validation gets all “FEED ME, SEYMOUR!” And so we do, because its like… right there, so we can. There’s no real reason for it aside from convenience. We were fine without it before. I mean, those of us who lived without it. Y’all are on your own who grew up with it. That shit is wired in you. Good luck and God speed to you, my friends.
- There is a lot of writing in my brain that gets wasted in one liners on Facebook posts. I could be elaborating on that stuff, and writing books, and making bank. But instead I’m all witty and hilarious in two lines on Tuesday that will quickly be forgotten until the same date rolls around next year and I repost being all, “hey, y’all, I was funny once. Look! See?” And at that point no one cares anymore.
- All that time I save. Seriously. Facebook is a time suck. You are flushing a lifetime down the drain. Stop that shit. Life is precious and short. Go live!
- Unplugging from Facebook makes me want to unplug from TV too. Eventually I realize that, while some TV is useful for relaxing, it can be as much of an addiction as picking up our stupid little phones. I have the urge to turn it off more, and go do the valuable things Facebook was keeping me from too. Like writing.
So, here I am. Writing. I am also going to try to write daily. I was going to do that privately, because not all of my thoughts need to be published, but then I decided to do it here, for accountability.
Down to the main reason I take part in Lent. We all have those things. Those things we turn to that are unhealthy for us. For many of us, Facebook is one. Think about the things you’d like to get back to. Knitting, meditating, reading, biking, running, crafting, writing, reading, praying, volunteering, playing with the kids, singing, music, painting. Whatever it is, we all have valuable things we could be doing with our time other than checking out mentally and arguing with strangers on Facebook. Things that feed our souls and feed the good in this world. Heck, maybe something that literally feeds the needy. That is why I choose to give up something in my life that has been robbing me of my living. Something that has become a crutch.
It doesn’t really matter what it is, what matters is the way we use our time doing something more valuable. THAT is what gets us closer to God. That is living. I cannot think of a better way to challenge the things that steal our joy, and to learn what rewards we will discover waiting on the other side. It is indeed the epitome of spiritual nourishing.
Take This Cup From Me
He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Luke 22:41-44 NIV
This is not only my favorite part of the Easter story, but quite possibly my favorite moment in the entire Bible. We know Jesus is God in human form, but this is his most human moment. I imagine the prayer/conversation going something like this (paraphrasing, of course): “So, God/father, I know I have to be crucified and all, but I was just wondering if there might be a way to get around that whole part of this? Its going to suck pretty badly, so I thought it couldn’t hurt to ask if there was any other way to do this? I mean, at the end of the day, its your will, not mine. Just wanted to check.”
Who of us would not feel like that with such a task at hand? Overwhelmed, scared, full of dread. And yet, who of us would have the strength to surrender to God’s will with such an impending fate? I love that God sent an angel to strengthen him. It shows the ability of God to strengthen us in times of desperate struggle. For us, the angels may be literal or figurative, referring to people that He sends. Either way, He strengthens us. He sends help. He listens to our anguish. Jesus knew the reason he came. He knew this event was unavoidable and would feel unbearable, and yet he asked God for a way out. And yet, he ultimately surrendered to God’s will. He knew his mission and the purpose, and knowing how it would feel, he ultimately agreed to it… For us.
He knew the purpose it would serve was too great.
How many times have I begged God for a way out?
How many times have I pleaded for another way?
And did he listen? Always.
And did he strengthen me to get me through? Absolutely.
And did my anguish end up serving some greater purpose, either for myself or others? Every. Single. Time.
Did my ultimate surrender to God’s will help me accept the task at hand? You bet.
God is faithful when our fears distract us. God is present in our struggle. He will give us the strength to get through and accomplish great things. He is there. He is there because He knows our anguish. He has felt it for himself. He knows our desperation and fear. He’s been there. Even when we feel like He has forsaken us, still, He remains at our side.
When It Rains, It Pours: The Race Set Out Before Us
Running is hard. It requires endurance, and movement, and dedication. I naturally have an inclination for laziness, and depression often causes me to feel incredibly unmotivated. So, when I started running, I invited God in the process, because I knew I could not do it without Him. I’m notorious for being unable to maintain anything long term, however, my recovery and my relationship with God have shown me that it can be done. I have had both of these for nearly 7 years now.
When I started running, I immediately found myself having times when I wanted to quit. I felt like I couldn’t get through the discomfort, or I couldn’t find it in me to get out and do it at all. It was too hot, or too cold, or too hard, or I was too sleepy; but I did it. Three times a week, I woke up early, and got out there and ran. When I had moments that I felt I couldn’t finish because it was too excruciating, I prayed. Each time, I prayed that God would end it. I pray the ending was close. In the process, I quickly discovered that God didn’t want me to pray for it to end. He wanted to pray for His help to get through it, despite the discomfort or difficulty. That was when I realized my running was a metaphor for my life. Often, I’ve found myself praying for the pain to end. “Make this situation go away or stop” or “take me God, end my life, please!” I always begged for the finish line, but sometimes, finish lines are far away, and though God could pick it up and move it for you, you need to learn that you can get through it. There is an important lesson after a finish line. I can do it. It can be done. I can get through it. Even when things are hard, I will survive and I will overcome.
I did this every time I ran. I’ve learned to listen to my body now. If it gets excruciating, I can slow down. I can pace myself. If I am experiencing pain, it is okay to pause. And I’ve learned that when I feel like I’m having moments when I want to give up or quit because it is just too effin hard, I can ask God for the strength to get through it. And I realized, I can do this in life. Do I have moments when I ask for Him to end it sometimes? Yes. But I always, eventually remember to ask for strength instead. And while I make the mistake of begging for an end, I can always feel God waiting patiently for me to realize my error. And when I have asked for the strength, God ALWAYS answers the prayer. And As soon as I get through it, I praise God for answering it.
And again and again He answers it. Every time I run, God answers it. I pray for the strength to get out of bed. I pray for the strength to get through the hard moments, and I pray for strength to finish.
It is for this reason that I love to run my longest runs Sunday mornings, before church. Because I do this, I always come to church in a state of praise and worship for all that God has already accomplished in my day and in my life. And I revel in God’s faithfulness. Faithfulness in my running process and in my life.
Last Sunday, God showed up in an incredible way. When I reflected on the run, I realized there was a poignant message there that I must share.
I’ve gotten more used to my Sunday runs, and I am excited to accomplish them and see God show up, so getting out of bed has become easier. When I got out there Sunday, I was wearing shorts and a short sleeve shirt, with a jacket over it. I didn’t pay the forecast of rain much mind as I usually find that to be wrong, or the rain to be light. All I knew is that it was going to be 55 degrees in February, and I was excited for shorts running weather. When the run started, I was feeling good. The previous week, I had been so exhausted that I kicked my own ankles the entire time. My ankles were bruised and had open wounds from the constant kicking. It definitely hurt. I was throwing around the massive cuss words, ALL OF THEM, by the end. This Sunday, I was better equipped. I had gone to bed earlier and had my coffee. I was doing well. Around two miles, my friend noticed it get darker and mentioned “uh oh, its about to rain.” I was feeling so good, I hadn’t even noticed. When we turned the corner, I could see a downpour up ahead pretty quickly. That’s when my “uh oh” moment happened. I am used to light rain while running, but I don’t have a lot of experience with rains like that. I got nervous. I knew I was going to be cold. As soon as we crossed the street, we were hit with a wall of rain. The winds became violent as well. When the first gust came through, it was so strong, it made a whistling sound that made me very nervous. I come from North Carolina and have been through my share of tornadoes, and they often start with winds like that. We were also close to Lake Erie, and there is a small chance that water spouts can come onto land. I was certain either was about to happen. I looked for ditches to lie in and there were none and I thought “omg we’re screwed.” As we crossed an open wind, the sideways walls of rain assaulted us. The winds blew so hard at us, that I was reminded of the winds suffocating me when I skydived. I struggled to breathe. At points, I had to close my eyes, for fear my contacts would either get too soaked to see through or blow right out of my eyes completely. I was freezing, and my fingers and toes were going numb. My friend offered an extra shirt to stay warm. At that same moment, we hit a hill to run up. Looking back, I find that hilarious. It was so much like obstacles in life, it had literally taken on the the phrase, “when it rains, it pours.” That was epitome of a moment that I had to ask for the strength to get through.
Once we passed through the storm, I felt more relieved that I have ever felt during a run for getting through a challenge. I thanked God for the strength. As I tried to catch my breath, my friend informed me there was another open area up ahead where winds might be difficult. I began to mentally prepare for a repeat of that experience. I became increasingly nervous as we neared that area. Once we got to that, I was surprised and delighted to find that these were entirely different circumstances. The ran was nice and light. The wind was strong, but this time, it had become a tailwind. I found the wind propelled me. It basically picked me up and pushed me further. I loved it! It made running so easy! I wanted it to last forever! Haha That too, I found poignant. Sometimes when we expect challenges, we find ourselves finding benefits instead. Sometimes challenges turn out to help us in incredible ways. They carry us farther, faster than we are able to do on our own. Once that moment passed, again I found myself praising God for giving me the wings.
These experiences were so beautiful, I found myself smiling for the rest of the morning. I also found myself so grateful for the lesson there, because it was so clear to me. Once I was nearing the finish line, again the tailwinds picked up, launching me forward!
God is so cool, y’all. He is faithful, and wonderful. God is shows up to help every time, and all you have to do for the assistance is ask. Jesus said we have not because we ask not. And it is true. God is eager to help you get through anything. He is waiting for your call. God is excited to hear from you. The truth is, finish lines can’t be moved, but God can get you through any race. Any obstacle you face, God is willing to give you the strength. If you are going through ANYTHING that you feel like you cannot withstand, God wants to help you overcome that, and come out the other side. I have seen this to be true. Again and again, I have seen this. I have experienced this. God will show up every time you ask. Even if you don’t believe, or think you aren’t a good person. Even if you doubt. You feel like God is angry or vengeful, or or wants to punish you? These misconceptions are not true. God wants you desperately to ask, but God has boundaries, and will not come into any situation without being invited. God is not one to impose. But if you ask, like clockwork, He will show up. I promise. With everything I have, I promise you that.
Risking Failure, but Stepping Out in Faith
I just heard a sermon about risking failure and stepping out in faith. (So much easier said than done, but definitely pays off in the end.) I’ve gotten one clear message from God about my pursuit of seminary, and it isn’t the best news possible. The single recurring message I’ve gotten is that I might not walk away from this with a degree.
Now, having once unsuccessfully attempted grad school, this isn’t the kind of thing I want to hear, exactly. But I do know one thing for sure, and that is that God has better things in store for us than we can even imagine. I would give anything to walk away from this endeavor with a Master’s degree, well, almost anything.
For whatever reason, be it selfish, or egotistical, or just simply wanting to have faith in myself and my ability again, I want that degree. I’d be lying if I said that the prospect of not ending up with one isn’t disappointing; but I also realize that I’m not in this process to to restore my faith in myself, I’m in it to grow in my faith in God.
My ultimate goal in this process is to grow closer to God/know God more intimately; to become like a seed planted on good soil; to exemplify the kind of life that a follower of Christ lives; to serve God, and to bring glory to God.
I’m just a baby in my faith. I’m coming up on 3 years since I gave my life to Christ. A lot of people know Christ their whole lives. I do believe I have something to offer in service to God, a new perspective, some definite talents.
At the end of the day, if I reflect honestly, I do believe that God isn’t necessarily saying that I definitely will not end up with the degree I want. I believe God is saying that this shouldn’t be my goal, or my focus. I do want so much more than a degree from this process. A degree needs to be a take it or leave it kind of deal. If I get one, great! If I don’t, I will walk away with knowledge and wisdom that are so much more valuable than a framed piece of paper on my wall. That alone needs to be enough.
Isn’t that true in so many situations? Our number one goal should be to seek God wholly, not to find satisfaction in things of this world.
Still, letting go of that dream will be tough. I resolve to do it, though. I cannot give myself fully to this process if I am in any way putting my focus and my hope in something as ultimately meaningless as a degree.
If you can, please pray for me in this process of letting go of my ideas of success; and starting on the road toward reaching the potential that God has set for me in this journey. Thanks a million!
Two New Prayers
One of my readings last week asked me about my roadblocks to God. I had said that I don’t let others’ hatred affect my relationship with God, but maybe I do. I get very frustrated with Jesus’ followers, and that can frustrate my own relationship with God.
The fact is, my relationship with God has nothing to do with anyone else. It is between me and God. I cherish the fact that only God can know the true level of my faithfulness. It is like we have our very own language.
Through my readings last week, both in the devotional I’m reading for class and in the book of Mark. I found two things that I want to pray for every day. In certain twelve step programs, they say, every morning you should wake up and pray for another day free from your addiction, and every night, you should thank God for another day free from your addiction. I’ve never really felt a connection to those prayers, as I feel completely set free from most of my addictive behaviors.
The reading that I had for class has a chapter/day on accepting Christ as your savior. But it also has a prayer option for people who have already done that. It basically says that you should thank Jesus for saving your life. And I thought, what a great daily prayer! So, my goal is to go to God in Prayer, and thank Jesus daily for saving my life.
In Mark 4:13-20, Jesus says: “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like the seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop–some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
When I read that, I thought, I want to be like the seed sown on good soil! Then, I decided that this will be part of my daily prayer.
Thank you, Jesus for saving my life. Lord, please make me like seed sown on good soil, so that I may hear the word, accept it, and produce a great many crops from it. In Your name I pray, Amen.
Beyond My Power
As adamant as I am about the issue of sexual violence, I feel that maybe my take on it can come off misleading. See, because of my own history with sexual violence, it is hard for me to actually be a part of the fight.
In 2009, I had a therapist tell me to “stop watching the news.” So, I did. Around the time, I had become fixated on the Shanyia Davis story. A mom sold her 5 year old daughter into sexual slavery. The daughter was later found raped and murdered, then tossed on the side of the road, like trash. I was dumbfounded and destroyed by this story. It pretty much shattered my world, and I couldn’t stop following it. How could someone do that to a child? How could a mother do that to her own child? I couldn’t understand it, and it made a frightening reality come to light for me: there is evil in this world, beyond my comprehension, and even with what I’ve been through, I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.
I wish I could tell you that when I stopped watching the news, everything got a little lighter for me. And maybe it did, a wee bit. Even to this day, I go online, and pick and choose headlines based on their triviality. “Reality TV is going down the toilet–literally” The more serious stories, I avoid. I know enough just by the headlines. “Police: Florida man linked to up to 1 million child porn videos, images” The headline says enough. I don’t need to read about this pig, and start to mull over the fact that those 1 million videos and images, mean that tens of thousands of children were forced to participate in sexual acts to make that stuff. I know that already. Although, maybe some people don’t. Maybe a lot of people are completely desensitized to that stuff, and don’t even consider those children when they read a headline like that. For them, I say: READ THE ARTICLE, and think about it.
For those of us who have survived similar experiences, I say: Don’t torture yourself.
No, I understand enough without subjecting myself to it. I heard tidbits about the Steubenville rape case. Enough to get a gist. I cannot read an article about it. I simply can’t. Maybe this makes me a hypocrite, or maybe it makes me self-preserving, I don’t know. All I know is, I just can’t stomach it and hold my world together.
Similarly, I write about the fight to end this stuff, because I cannot actually participate in the fight. I’ve been on the front lines of the battle, and I know how hopeless it is there. For those of you who can stay there and fight this battle, I thank you. I know what it feels like to notice that the army is lacking in numbers, and that all the people at your side are survivors. A lot of times, it is survivors like me, who cannot manage to stay and fight and hold their own lives in tact, but they fight anyway, their very livelihood falling by the wayside. I understand that.
It feels like screaming endlessly in a sea of people, who know you’re there, but choose not to acknowledge you.
I cannot actively delve into the numerous cases of sexual violence and survive. This is what I learned in recovery. If I want to survive, I have to take a step back. Sometimes, this makes me feel helpless and useless. Most of the time, I know it is what keeps me breathing.
I learned that in recovery, but I also learned something from my relationship with God: This battle isn’t just a physical one, or an emotional or mental one. This is a spiritual battle too.
Now this is where my two worlds collide. I know a lot of feminists working without God, and a lot of God-loving people, working without feminism. For me, these two worlds are not mutually exclusive.
I cannot be out there fighting emotionally, mentally, physically, or judiciously, but I can fight like hell spiritually.
I’ve started praying feverishly on the subject of sexual violence. I learned from my relationship with God, that the fight to end sexual violence isn’t hopeless, it just can’t be fought alone. Human beings simply don’t have the power to end it based on the sure will of the fight. We aren’t that powerful. But I fully believe, that with God at our backs, this battle can be won.
I pray for the victims, that they find healing and wholeness despite their experiences. And I pray for those who are on the front lines fighting, that they have the strength and ferocity to not back down, no matter what. I pray for the un-listening, uncaring world, that their eyes and hearts are opened to this battle, and that they join in the fight. I declare miracles over this battle, that it be won by the side that is good. And I rebuke evil’s grasp on so many of us through such violence. I declare victory against evil, and an end to sexual violence.
For those non-believers, you probably think this is useless. But that’s ok, we all have our opinions. Maybe prayer isn’t for you, but luckily, there are plenty of ways to join in the movement.
For those believers, I hope you’ll join me in prayer.
We have the power to end this battle. We just have to claim it.
God, I come to You humbled by the work You have done and are constantly doing in my life. I thank You.
God, I ask that You show me opportunities daily where I can glorify You and serve others. I ask that You give me the strength to serve You in every capacity, to step out of my comfort zone and work as Your disciple.
God, please stay always close in my mind, heart, and spirit. You are my everything. Help me live in such a way that my body becomes a tool to glorify and serve You.
Help me remember always that I am a new person in You, free from the bondage that used to dictate my life. Show me also, who I am capable of being in You, and don’t ever accept less from me. Guide me down the path that You designed for me, and help me fulfill my purpose in You.
Mold me daily into a better human being. Help me to see others through Your eyes, and treat others with the same respect, love, and forgiveness that You have for them.
Help me stay moment-by-moment in a state of gratitude for the miracles you have performed and are performing in my life.
Help to perfect me, and help me to mature. Give me the stability and determination it takes to accomplish even everyday, ordinary tasks consistently. Help me to put away selfishness, stubbornness, and hard-headedness to accomplish all these things for Your glory.