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Against all Odds

dice“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” 1 John 5:4

On Father’s Day, just a few hours before the big game, NBA player Chris Bosh addressed the media about his team’s 3-1 deficit in the Finals. One reporter asked him what his attitude was going into a game where the odds were heavily stacked against the Miami Heat (no NBA franchise has ever rallied from such a hole to win the Larry O’Brien trophy). His reponse: “Odds are for people who can’t do it.” The Heat’s star Lebron James added, “Why not us? History is made to broken, why not be part of it.”

That’s a lot of confidence, but unfortunately it was not enough for Bosh, James and their teammates. They succombed to the San Antonio Spurs in a game – best-of-seven series – that many sports analysts and basketball fans described as a “jaw-dropping masterpiece.” But that doesn’t mean they haven’t defied the odds before; they are one of four teams in NBA history to have gone to the finals back-to-back four times or more. That says a lot considering how long the NBA has been around and the amount of teams that compete each year. That is why the Miami Heat can afford to be hopeful in the face of adversity…and so can we.

We have a lot of odds stacked up against us in our own personal endeavors. Research show and tell us that the ratio of Americans who go on to become billionaires are one in 785,166; one in five marriages will end within five years; the chances of a normal, healthy woman getting pregnant are only 20 to 40 percent; the odds of having identical triplets sans fertility treatments is one in every 2 million; the chances of dying from heart disease is more than one in three if your’re a woman; men have one in two chance of developing cancer; and the chances of living to 100 years of age is one in 1,000.

These statistics, including family history and past experiences (whether personal or interpersonal) cement this idea in our minds that we cannot beat the odds. As a result, when faced with challenges while trying to pursue a seemingly unattainable goal, we shrink back in unbelief, become discouraged and give up.

But a careful look at the lives of the saints in the Bible reveal that perfectly flawed humans who find themselves in compromising situations can defeat the odds as long as they trust God.

When Gideon was given the daunting task of delivering the Israelites from the aggressive Midianites the first thing he did was measure his failures against the enemy’s success. Gideon was the “least in [his] father’s house” and came from a weak clan. On the contrary, the Midianites boasted an army as numerous as the sand on the seashore and they always succeeded in their raids against Israel. How could Gideon not be afraid? An angel of God had to encourage him: “God is with you, you mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12).

Gideon was still unsure if it was truly God asking him to combat the Midianites. He said, “Show me a sign that it is You who speak with me” (Judges 6:17). More specifically, Gideon asked God to make a piece of wool wet overnight and He did. He also asked God to keep another piece of fleece dry while making the surrounding dirt wet and God complied. Gideon finally obliged.

He assembled a formidable group of Israelite men but God commanded him to downsize lest Gideon and his crew take credit for the victory. If anyone was and is deserving of all the glory, it is God.

Gideon’s shrunk his troupe from 32,000 to 300 and they went on to defeat the Midianites. Their victory was truly an anomaly to those watching from afar because the Israelites did not boast an impressive resume. They clearly lacked the strength and size to conquer their enemy, but they had the favor of God upon them. And that was more than enough.

Like Gideon, we may become fearful in the face of adversity and begin to doubt God. In desperation, we may even seek out other options to guarantee a win. But God will always remind us, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). He knows our faith is best developed when we have done everything humanely possible only to fall short.

So He does not only use the odds to build our faith; He employs us in our vulnerable state – by His grace – to test our faith and allow us to defeat the odds for His glory.

 

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Courage to Start Over

          starting-over-road

Starting all over, either by force or by choice, is tough for anyone, young and old.

I remember when I had to attend a new elementary school at the age of eight. I was very upset about leaving all of my friends and relatives at Dillard Elementary School where I was a student for three years. I really felt like I belonged because the student body was very diverse and the faculty and staff were culturally conscious. We explored the world around us through lively and interactive presentations in our special classes and at our school assemblies. I didn’t want to leave all of that behind (this affected me a lot emotionally), but I eventually found the courage to adapt to the new faces and curriculum at my new school.

Many years later, when I left home for college at the age of 19, I quickly learned that my past experiences could not prepare me to adjust to my new environment in Tallahassee. Aside from now having to live in a slow-paced (and sometimes too friendly and scary) city, I had to pay my own rent, buy groceries and prepare my meals, nurse myself back to health when I was sick and deal with other issues without the help of my family. When the hurricanes blew through during that period, that was especially hard for me because my dad was not there to make me feel safe.

Reading the Bible, which appears to have a ‘starting over” theme weaved through all of the stories, helped a lot reminding me that I was never alone in life transitions.

After the Jews were taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar II, they spent 70 years as prisoners in Babylon. Prior to their exile, the Jews had already experienced slavery and deliverance in Egypt and made a life for themselves in Jerusalem.Yet, they were distressed because they lost their city, homes, pride, Temple (a symbol of their faith) and most importantly, the Ark of the Covenant. It was hard for them to get comfortable in the homeland of idolatry where the Babylonians bowed down to anyone but God.

When they had served their time – their captivity was the result of their sins and God’s subsequent judgment – King Cyrus of Persia sent a decree allowing the Jews to return to their land with the blessings of the Persian Empire. However, not many of them were willing to leave Babylon because they had already settled. The few that did return to Palestine had to start all over because all they found was rubble in the place they once called home. After many years of opposition, they were able to successfully rebuild the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem. A revival was held in celebration of this feat in which the prophets read books of the Old Testament and gave the Jews a renewed sense of hope.

Babylon represented chaos, but the Jews turned to God, who encouraged them to keep calm: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity” (Jeremiah 29:11-14). Zion, the land of Judah, to which the Jews returned represented God’s spiritual kingdom. In retrospect, when the Jews went back home, they also returned to God’s unmerited favor.

In life, we will all experience change (both good and bad) and each one will feel like the first time — like we have been taken out of God’s goodness and held captive in a strange and chaotic environment. If we are not careful, we will settle in our broken places and miss out on our breakthrough. Instead of returning to God and rebuilding our shattered dreams, we will revel in pain, anger and bitterness and become sluggish.

That is not the purpose of God’s judgment or grace. He wants us to grow in the hard places in preparation for a fresh start. And if that seems like a daunting task, we only need to remember His promises to Israel through the prophet Isaiah: “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

 

References: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

“Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord.” Acts 3:20

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What to Expect When One is no Longer Expecting

I have a sensitive spot in my heart for couples dealing with the loss –any loss really — of a baby. It’s just the way I have been wired. And it’s also one of the many ways I can relate because my husband and I have dealt with the same loss.

After nine weeks of pregnancy, all my hopes and dreams for a beautiful, healthy boy and/or girl vanished. The embryo was growing in the wrong place. Instead of implanting itself to the wall of my uterus, the fertilized egg stalled in my fallopian tube and began to develop rapidly. It was the most painful experience ever, physically and emotionally. After my laparascopic procedure, in which they removed the pregnancy and ruptured tube (the left one to be exact), the nurse said to me, “There was a heartbeat. The procedure went well.”

A heartbeat is an indication of life. A pregnancy is a blessing. Giving birth is a miracle. You can’t imagine how it feels for a woman to not receive such a blessing from God, to not be given an opportunity to participate in a miracle and celebrate bringing life into this world. You.really.can’t.imagine.what.it’s.like.to.feel.inadequate!

I will never forget what that nurse said and how it made me feel. I felt like God got lazy when He “knit me together in my mother’s womb.” It was as if He missed the part of creation where He was supposed to fix the signals in my brain that should have instructed the fertilized ovum to leave its comfort zone and seek refuge in the “promised land” that is my womb. As far as I was concerned, the doctors were better at repairing than He was at preventing (don’t judge me for my inaccurate and flawed human reasoning).

miscarriage

In the years following my loss, it was tough being happy for expectant moms, particularly those close to me. But over time, it got easier to genuinely feel happy with them. It was the only way I could truly recover and be myself again if not better.

Even though it is natural to have feelings of resentment while grieving, I refused to be oppressed by my emotions. I was determined to feel without reacting; to heal without re-hatching. I can’t say I didn’t slip up a few times. As much as I tried to “be still and know that He is the Lord” through prayer after prayer, I got tested…a lot.

It angered me when people would come up to me and say things like, “You’re not pregnant yet? What are you waiting for?” Their insensitive probing always prompted me into throwing a mental pity party.

It especially hurt when friends and loved ones would offer unsolicited advice on what I needed to do to get pregnant. And to add insult to injury, some of them had the nerve to blatantly inform me that I was either with the wrong guy or I must have done something to upset God.

I know they were genuinely trying to help (or were they?), but the pressure was unnecessary because all it did was make me feel all the more incompetent. Why couldn’t I get pregnant the way everyone else did? Why must I drink a cup of apple cider vinegar diluted in water or a concoction of herbs brewed as tea? Why must I get weekly massages and acupuncture treatments or take fertility pills hailing all the way from some immaculate science lab in London?

All I needed everyone to do was to treat me the way they did before my loss: NORMAL.

I was tired of wearing the label of “woman who lost her baby,” looking into the eyes of pity and lending an ear to cliches (“it’ll happen when you least expect it”) and divine conspiracy theories (“God has something better for you”). Yeah, I lost a baby and yeah, it hurts. However, I don’t want my name to be synonymous to infertility or cursed or forgotten; I want to be treated as a woman simply standing in the motherhood line waiting to hear the Giver of Life shout “Next!” because He sees me, wants to bless me and let me know He remembered me.

That is all I ask. That is all any woman (or man) dealing with loss wants.

In the Book of Romans, apostle Paul instructed the Christians in Rome to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (vs.12:15). Nowhere in that Scripture does it state to rejoice for or to weep for. Perhaps it is because you can easily make the situation about you if your heart is not in sync with a person. But when you are able to fully relate to someone (not through circumstances but through oneness with Christ), you are demonstrating a unity of mind, sympathy and tender heart.

Anyone can applaud for you even if they are not genuinely happy for you, but not every one can dim their light and celebrate with you. And anyone can give you a sympathy card even if they are not genuinely sad for you, but not every one can put aside their agendas and spend a few hours crying and praying with you.

Therefore, don’t feel sorry for couples dealing with a loss of a baby; feel sorry with them. In other words, put yourself in their shoes — even if it doesn’t fit — and act accordingly.