preparation, Spiritual Growth

Strength for the Journey

“Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.” Isaiah 41:10

Hard work pays off. No one knows that better than those in the pursuit of success, especially high school and college graduates.

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An illustration of how God empowers us: My husband and me on a cruise to Bimini in 2013.

Lately, I have been noticing a lot of sentimental posts and pictures from recent grads on social media. I know that feeling of utter relief and satisfaction. Even though I haven’t been in school for quite some time, I still remember all those hours I spent reading, researching, writing, and discovering formulas for algebraic expressions like it was yesterday.

I thought those days would never end. There were times when I was tempted to quit…and there were times when I did, mentally. In a world where some things are dictated by time—like a four-year degree—it’s hard to escape the pressures of completing each semester with a passing grade. No one wants to arrive late to success and the real world, but in most cases, some people get left behind because they failed a few courses.

That can be discouraging, and this is also something I know full well. I didn’t graduate college with my class. It took me an additional three years to finish because of lack of preparation, concentration, and motivation. I almost gave up because I could not deal with the challenges (math was not my strong suit).

One Sunday morning, I attended church service and heard a guest pastor say, “Just because it’s difficult does not mean it’s impossible.” As simple as that sounded, I thought his declaration was profound. I repeated those words in my head in the latter years of my collegiate journey until it was time for me to cross the stage and receive my degree. I was empowered by them because they confirmed two biblical truths for me: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” and “Nothing is impossible with God” (Philippians 4:13, Luke 1:37).

The former verse was a direct quote from Paul, the apostle who was thanking the Philippians for their generosity. He was also sharing with them how he had been able to survive the worst and best parts of his journey because he knew he would be rewarded for his labor when it was all said and done.

The angel who had just told Mary that her cousin had conceived a son in her old age spoke the latter verse. Mary was still grappling with the idea that she would conceive a son through the Holy Spirit. The angel shared Elizabeth’s pregnancy to assure Mary that God would keep His promise.

Considering that we’re all on a journey, we all need divine encouragement to get us through the hard lessons of faith. Paul did not have a church to fund his missionary trips or a private jet to get him to different parts of the world. He relied on God to meet his physical and spiritual needs. Elizabeth did not have access to expensive fertility treatments to get pregnant right away, but her faith carried her through the ache and the wait.

Therefore, not everything that we desire in this life will come easy. In fact, some of our goals may end up unfulfilled. We need the power of God to endure the grueling process of maturity, but it takes discipline to commit to our spiritual progress or any endeavor in life for that matter.

Just as we graduate when we’ve worked hard and passed all the lessons entailed in our field of study, Scripture states that God will “establish” us after we have “suffered a little while” (or after we have passed life’s tests). As challenging as that sounds, it is refreshing to know that the God who is fully aware of our shortcomings, empowers us to overcome any obstacle.

Whatever challenges you are faced with today as you try to achieve your goals, I pray God gives you strength…and that you readily accept it.

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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).

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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.

 

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Faith in Action

“You have stayed long enough at this mountain.” Deuteronomy 1:6

Have you ever felt stuck? Paralyzed? How many times have you talked yourself into doing something, and even envisioned yourself going after a dream only to find yourself in a standstill?

The inability to do something that you are fully capable of doing is the worst feeling in the world. It’s a feeling I know too well.

I can recall days when I literally felt bound. When I was in high school I was sitting in my geometry class feeling groggy from a cold I was just getting over. I folded my arms on my desk and put my head down. Before I knew it, I dozed off. The sound of the bell awakened me, and I opened my eyes, ready to grab my bags and dash out of the classroom. I was so embarrassed I slept through the entire period.

But when I tried to move, my limbs would not budge. I felt lethargic and frozen in place. I tried again, but I could not lift up my head. I panicked because from my peripheral vision, something dark and evil was looming over my shoulder. I could not even scream.

I could see my teacher looking at me. She had one arm on her hip and the other one in the air with a board eraser in her hand. “Well, aren’t you going to leave? I know you don’t love my class that much,” she said. She turned her back to wipe the blackboard. I could not reply.

I said a silent, desperate prayer to God. Please forgive me for not paying attention during lecture. I am sorry. Help me!

Finally, I was able to wiggle my fingers, then I sneezed. My head jerked and I lifted it up and all of sudden felt life throughout my body. I grabbed my stuff and left the room as fast as I could.

I don’t know what happened to me that day. But years later, after a couple of more episodes, I discovered through an online medical article that I may have had sleep paralysis. According to research, this phenomenon is the result of sleep deprivation or irregular sleep habits and affects half of the population. In some countries, people refer to it as “spiritual oppression.”

Thankfully it’s not uncommon and usually does not persist or cause bodily harm. Neither should fear of failure.

While sleep paralysis can evoke fear, fear alone is debilitating. It can cause you to not move forward when necessary, even if there is nothing physically stopping you and every single body part is functioning properly.

When the Israelites reached their window of opportunity at the Red Sea, they were filled with terror. How were they supposed to cross over? There weren’t any boats in sight. And it did not help when they noticed that the Egyptians were pursuing them. At that point, all they could do was cry out to God. Moses tried to calm them down, saying “Fear not.” But God’s children were not convinced. Moses himself felt uncertain.

The Lord said to him, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward” (Exodus 14:15). If you read the whole passage, you will find that God never once entertained their fears. You would think, with Him being powerful that He would have stretched out His mighty arm, gather them in His hand and carry them over. But instead He gave them instructions to follow. He made them put their faith to work so that they might be delivered from stagnation.

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So in a sense He did carry them over! Hearing from God restored the Israelites’ motivation and destroyed the power of fear over them. What looked impossible became effortless and they were able to overcome their obstacles. Why? Because they stopped standing and did something. They prayed and followed directions.

The Israelites’ journey is no different from our own. Just like them, we are all trying to get ahead in life, and sometimes that means breaking out of our comfort zones (dead ends) and trusting God all the way. We don’t only need faith (Matthew 17:20) to believe it can happen; we need clear instructions from God (Psalm 32:8) and a solid work ethic to make it happen (James 2:17).

Scripture to meditate on:

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. Matthew 17:20

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Psalm 32:8

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:17

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Keep People in Prayer…For Real

 

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.” 1 Timothy 2:1Image

I recently found a stack of sympathy cards that my husband and I received from our friends years ago after the loss of our unborn baby. Many of them read, “You are in our prayers.”

I wondered if our loved ones had really been praying for us or if they jotted those words to provide comfort for the moment. It’s not that our friends are bad people – I am sure they meant well – but, some of them were not even believers at the time.

And if I could be honest, there have been times when I have written and verbally shared those same thoughts to loved ones and I did not follow through with those prayers. It’s not that I didn’t want to pray for them. It’s just that I allowed time to pass and as a result, the promise slipped my mind or I had such a busy day that I felt too tired to pray.

But as valid as my excuses may seem to me, it doesn’t make my behavior OK. Instead, it reveals my lack of integrity. If I say I will do something, I must mean it and do it … right away. Besides, who is to say God is not counting on me to pray on behalf of whoever is in need of a miracle or blessing of some sort? I don’t ever want to let an opportunity to pray for someone slip my mind only to find out that their circumstances took a turn for the worse.

In the Old Testament, the Book of Ezekiel records the sins of the people, mainly the prophets and priests (God’s leaders) and princes (political leaders). According to one passage, they “have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice” (Ezekiel 22:29).

God was getting ready to unleash his wrath on them and was looking for someone who would pray on the people’s behalf. He said, “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one” (v. 30).

In other words, God was looking for someone to be a hedge of protection for the people because they were going to need it. The people were so sinful that there was no way they could pray for themselves. It is written: “The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous” (Proverbs 15:29). Because there was not a righteous person to intercede for the land, God carried out His plan to punish the people.

There are other cases in which God was looking for someone to “stand in the gap” for the people and actually found some volunteers. In one case, Isaiah volunteered to preach the Good News to the people so that they might repent (Isaiah 6:8); Queen Esther prayed and fasted on behalf of the Jews, who were facing execution, and God protected them (Esther 4:5); and Moses stood in the gap for the Israelites when they complained, demonstrating their ungratefulness (Exodus 32).

Each of these individuals took initiative to pray in the midst of a crisis. They did not hesitate or allow enough time to pass for the situation to get worse. They recognized the danger and took advantage of the opportunity to pray.

Today, God is still looking for people to pray for the lost, the grieving, the needy and the oppressed. He is looking for people to “stand in the gap” for the church and world leaders.

The great thing about it is that he is not looking for a perfect human being. He is seeking believers with a willing heart and a spirit of readiness.