Childlike Faith – Living and Loving Your Life With God's Perspective

Tag - faith

When You’re Waiting for Your Miracle

waiting-for-miracle
On Tuesday , we were due to have our first baby. People say that with your first child, it’ll probably come late and so don’t get your hopes up for an early or even on-time delivery.  But you all know me – I definitely expected ours to not make us wait. She’s been so active every single day for a couple of months now, and it made me believe she was hankering to come on out and start exploring the world.

Approaching that day, I was definitely getting antsy. I was like, come on Baby, we want to meet you! We want to hold you! We want to squeeze you! But apparently Rachel’s womb is incredibly hospitable, and there have been no real signs that the process of labor is beginning.  And now, it’s five days later. And part of me is thinking that this is never going to happen.

But it will.  I mean, it has to.  Baby has to come out.  

Rachel and I are in between the promise and the fulfillment.  But it’s like we’re stuck, or paralyzed, or just caught in suspension. And it’s a feeling I (and probably you) know all too well from other pivotal experiences. Hoping for a girl or a boy to show interest in you. Longing for graduation when you’re barely a sophomore. Desperate to be an adult so you can do things your way. Waiting for retirement and the easy life.

Since Tuesday, I don’t even expect it to happen. In fact, I try not to even think about it. What’s the use?  I don’t want to be let down. When it happens, it happens, and until then we’re supposed to just live our life.

But I do have moments where I’m like, how are we supposed to just live our life? I mean, this is such a humongous deal! Like, one of the biggest things ever!

But I do have moments where I’m like, how are we supposed to just live our life? I mean, this is such a humongous deal! Like, one of the biggest things ever!

You can imagine (but you probably shouldn’t) that we’ve tried pretty much all of the suggestions that people have given us about naturally inducing labor.  Spicy foods.  Massages.  Lots of walking.  Sex.  Swimming.  Bouncing on a Pilates ball.  Eating pineapple.  Doing squats.  It’s not working.  Nothing is working.

And that’s familiar too.  Believing that something is going to happen, but seeing that God is taking His sweet time, and trying to force the issue. Haven’t we all been there and done that? I can’t just chill and go focus on something else.  I need to try to manipulate the situation so things happen on my own timeline.

<sigh>

All of this reminds me of one of the constant themes of my life: nothing happens for weeks and months and years and then BAM! God shows up. 

This happened with my schooling.  With my career.  With publishing articles.  With love.  Long seasons of waiting, and then suddenly, surprisingly, something amazing happened.  But this is what God does, it seems.  I have written about this verse before, but Isaiah 47:3 makes this clear: “I foretold the former things long ago, my mouth announced them and I made them known; then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.”

God knows what’s up even in the middle of the silence, the stillness, the why-is-nothing-happening moments. He has a plan, and it’s for our good. Actually, it’s for our best.  It’s not like He’s sitting on His Hands.  The truth is just the opposite: He’s been at work all along – laying the groundwork, orchestrating the details, and fine-tuning the outcome.  Because we can’t see any of that, we start to believe that no tangible progress is being made. And then get frustrated.  And impatient. And annoyed.  And sad.

God knows what’s up even in the middle of the silence, the stillness, the why-is-nothing-happening moments. He has a plan, and it’s for our good.

And then we try to take matters into our own hands, which doesn’t work out (or at least doesn’t work out as well as we thought it would). That’s fitting, because we should have just waited on Him.

This last month has been tough, tougher than I thought it would be.  And we still haven’t even experienced what labor will be like.  But as for waiting for Baby to make a move, I’m done thinking about it.  Obviously, I am ready and stoked for it to happen, but I am not going to struggle with figuring God’s timeline, and I’m definitely done trying to speed up the process. 

Another lesson in letting go.  You’d think I’d have mastered the skill by now, given how many times He’s tried to teach me.  But no, not yet.  He is gracious and patient with me, and I am constantly learning to be gracious and patient with Him.  There is a reason why Baby hasn’t come yet, and I don’t get to know. 

I get to trust.

And I get to practice having childlike faith in a perfectly loving God. 

Image source:
http://bit.ly/2xBdMza

When You’re Trying to Protect Yourself from Pain

bracing for impact
Driving on the backroads of Ireland is very stressful and downright scary sometimes. This is no exaggeration. Americans like me are already at a bit of a disadvantage because the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, and the Irish drive on the left side of the road. Secondly, Irish roads are notoriously curvy and hilly – and the signs say you can go a lot faster than I think is actually possible. Maybe the locals can do it, but when I saw a curve up ahead with a sign indicating 100km/h, I pretty much had to slow down to 50km/h just to not wreck my car. I’m not kidding. It’s not just me – ask other visitors and they will tell you the same (I overheard other tourists discussing this crazy reality).

Aside from these factors, many country roads are single-lane flanked by walls made of some type of foliage (shrubbery, bushes, or trees) or some type of stonework (properties fenced in by piles of rock) you could easily reach out and touch. The close proximity of these walls to the road also means there is very little shoulder to pull off onto. So, you’re in an unfamiliar country in an unfamiliar car on extremely curvy, hilly roads where you can’t see what’s around the bend or over the hill, and there is very little margin for error because veering slightly off road leads to a collision, which will probably lead to another collision because other vehicles might not see you before they are right on top of you.

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In case you are wondering, when a car is coming your way on a single lane road, both drivers quickly survey their surroundings to determine the next step. If the other person seems to have a tiny bit more shoulder room than you, they flash their lights to bid you forward, try to pull off as far left as they possibly can, and wait for you to pass by (with your side mirrors almost clipping each other) before reoccupying the road again. You would do the same if you are able to pull off the road a bit. As they say in the United Kingdom, it is really dodgy.

It took five strangers from multiple vehicles to see that we were in trouble, stop, come over, and then physically rock and lift our car out of the ditch and back onto the road.

One time, Rachel and I were on one of these roads, and I thought I had about 18 inches of grassy sod onto which I could pull over and let an oncoming vehicle pass. Unfortunately, the sod was actually a ditch with really tall grass growing inside of it – and we got stuck. It took five strangers from multiple vehicles to see that we were in trouble, stop, come over, and then physically rock and lift our car out of the ditch and back onto the road (note to tourists of Ireland: rent a small coupe and not a big SUV – you will thank me later!).

I share all of this with you because these single lane country roads in Ireland were nerve-wracking for me, and especially for Rachel. With me behind the wheel, I felt much more in control since I could steer and I could brake, but in the passenger seat I’m sure she felt helpless and had her life flash before her eyes more than a few times. I kept telling her to relax, and that there was no use in both of us being super anxious and wound up about not crashing. But if I were in her position, I am sure I would have felt the same way. And for a good portion of our drive around the southern and western coast of the Emerald Isle, Rachel was on understandably on edge as we navigated these narrow roads.

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I could see her brace for impact every time we got too close to a wall of stone or shrubbery on our left, or a car passing on our right. Her body would shift into a protective position and she would close her eyes tightly, and then inhale sharply and quickly. There were lots of gasps. Lots. And in my mind (and sometimes out loud) I would be like, “Love!!!!!!!” “Relax!” “I got this!” “Don’t worry!”

And she would exhale and untense her body for a moment, and all would be well, but soon enough she would reflexively return to the same posture and perspective, gasping and quietly freaking out. Old habits die hard, it seems.

Eventually, though, Rachel had a breakthrough.

It started to become exhausting to keep tensing up and then relaxing her body and nerves, with her blood pressure rising and falling. And as she began to process her thoughts out loud in conversation with me, she by herself came to the conclusion that nothing she could do would affect whether we crashed or didn’t crash. She was just working herself up for no good reason. I was behind the wheel, she had entrusted her safety to me, and had to have faith that I would take care of her, and that I had her best interests at heart. This is because I love her – more than she will ever know. She just had to sit back and try to enjoy the ride.

And so it is with life.

These days, I’m learning anew the mysterious lesson that doesn’t ever seem to fully and permanently sink in: that we’re not in control. Our first baby is going to be born in a couple of weeks, and it’s pretty much all I think about. I’m wondering if I have prayed enough for her – for her health, for the labor, for the delivery, and for Rachel. I’m wondering if I should have been singing songs to Baby or reading books to Baby over the course of these months. I’m wondering if I should have put headphones on Rachel’s belly and piped some classical music into the womb because of the proposed “Mozart Effect.” All I want is a healthy, bouncing baby girl who develops and grows perfectly, and I just feel completely helpless in guaranteeing that happens. Completely helpless.

There are no guarantees. I get that. And I am actively willing myself to just let go, on a daily basis. Really. I mean, nothing I do at this point will affect the health of our baby.

But sometimes, my emotions just rage, and things feel so unsafe because I have no control over the outcome.

In these moments, I have to keep returning to the truth and not let the encroaching tidal wave of emotions overtake me. The truth is solid ground – where I have sure footing, and not shifting sand –  which represents my all-over-the-place feelings and keeps me unstable, fearful, and basically a hot mess.

We cannot live our lives bracing for impact: half expecting the bottom to fall out, the other shoe to drop, for life to go sideways.

The truth is that God is in firm control. The truth is that we are as safe as we can ever be if we entrust our lives and our future to Him, because He is perfectly good, and loving, and has our best interests at heart. We cannot live our lives bracing for impact: half expecting the bottom to fall out, the other shoe to drop, for life to go sideways.

But even if it does, He’s still with us. He’s present. He’s behind the wheel. And He will remain actively involved, no matter what. This is because He loves us, more than we will ever know.

There is safety in that.

We just need to sit back and try to enjoy the ride.

Image sources:

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When you trust yourself more than God for career success

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By now, I’m going to assume you’ve seen the viral video of a political expert being interviewed via Skype by the BBC, and the comedy that ensues when his two daughters boldly and innocently enter into his home office before being corralled and yanked out of there by their completely embarrassed mom. I saw the video early on Friday morning, and immediately showed Rachel (who loved it because that could happen to us one day!). Then, I retweeted it and tagged Justin because we both do a lot of phone and video interviews with the media and I knew he would be able to relate.

What I wanted to now discuss was some of the thoughts I had after reading a breakdown of the video by Ben Thompson. You should read it too, because it’s a splendid and tremendously entertaining writeup, and also because some of his insights cut me to the quick (and perhaps will do the same to you).

While commenting on why Robert Kelly (the protagonist) tried to do all he could to maintain decorum during the interview even after the host pointed out that his daughter had entered the room, the author states:

What you may not know about these TV spots is that you don’t get paid a dime. Why, then, does the BBC, or CNN, or MSNBC, or all of the other channels have an endless array of experts who are willing to not just call-in from their home office but will also go to the trouble of putting on a suit-and-tie and arrange books just so? BECAUSE YOU’RE ON TV!

Here’s the deal: the male ego is both remarkably fragile and remarkably easy to satiate. Tell said ego he will be featured as an expert in front of a national or global audience and he will do whatever it takes — including 12 years of academia and wearing a suit at home—to ensure it is so.

While I have never put on a full suit to field a Skype call from my home office, I have absolutely put on a dress shirt and tie (while wearing athletic shorts from the waist down) and sat at my desk to video chat with an interviewer. When the requests come in (primarily via email), I am definitely guilty of running around and inconveniencing myself and my family to take the call. Justin is pretty much the same way. We both agree that it will help to get our research and best practices out to those who need it. We also feel that we only have a limited amount of time to build our careers, and this is one of the ways which require some sacrifice – especially if it is a big-name media outlet.

I have always wanted to be someone who isn’t a hustler, always angling and scheming and posturing for success, but rather someone who remains humble and trusts that God will exalt me in due season (if He thinks I can handle it).

What the author’s commentary pointed out to me was that I am largely doing it to feed my ego. I’ve done media interviews on weekend mornings, during the evenings when I should have put my laptop to bed, and sometimes even on vacation (though, thankfully, rarely). And I justify it over and over again – because it will be relatively simple to knock it out (just shave and put on a button-down!), because I know the answers to the questions they are going to ask, and because others will meaningfully benefit from the information I share. But if I’m honest, those are all secondary reasons to the primary motivation: others will see it and hear my name, and I’ll maintain relevance as a sought-after “expert” in the field. And my ego will have been fed.

Ugh. Just typing that out loud feels gross. Slimy. Yucky.

I don’t want that. I have always wanted to be someone who isn’t a hustler, always angling and scheming and posturing for success, but rather someone who remains humble and trusts that God will exalt me in due season (if He thinks I can handle it). I do believe everything good and perfect comes from the Lord, and that I don’t need to exhaust myself in human effort to “make things happen.”  But it is clear that belief has not yet permeated all aspects of my life, as much as I want it to.

And if I am objective about it, the primary reason why I am so keen on doing these interviews (again, to the detriment of my own schedule, peace of mind, and family prioritization) is because of the fear of becoming irrelevant. And it’s weird because I really don’t want fame or notoriety – I just want to be able to provide for myself and my family.

But if I’m irrelevant professionally, I feel like all opportunities (and provision) will completely dry up.

And no one will care.

And life will fall apart.

That is ridiculous. That clearly demonstrates a lack of faith in the Lord as my source and my provider.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Matthew 6:28

To me, it doesn’t matter whether the political expert was working during normal business hours, or inconveniencing himself and his family by fielding the interview just because of his ego. What matters is that I personally found a teachable moment in the video, and see its application to how I am currently living. And how I want to live as a man with childlike faith.

Whether we realize it or not, God is always talking to us, always showing us things, always urging and ushering us towards a better place.

Whether we realize it or not, God is always talking to us, always showing us things, always urging and ushering us towards a better place. We just need to pay attention, and then apply those insights to our lives. If I am caught up in busyness, and just keep going through the motions without heeding what He is trying to teach me through my everyday observations and experiences, it will be such a shame.

I don’t want to fear missing out on ego-building opportunities. I want to fear missing out on faith-building opportunities. Because as my faith grows, so does my relationship with Him – from which flows the fullness of life I want and need above all else.

Image source: http://bit.ly/2lQL374

When God is Close to the Brokenhearted

There was this one time where I really loved this girl, and she loved me back, but things got jacked up because life is broken and people are broken and mistakes are made. In this relationship, most days were really, really great. But there was one day when something happened and my heart was shattered into a million pieces. I can’t get into the details, but I feel like most of us – at some point – have been devastated before. I mean, really, really devastated. Like when all of the air gets sucked out of your lungs, and you can’t breathe but you still feel like you’re going to be sick. Like your entire world starts to actually simultaneously spin and collapse all at once. And you know you’ve never felt so much pain in your entire life.

I feel like most of us, at some point, have been devastated before.

That was how I felt in that moment. I just looked up the date in my journal, and I had written the following at the time:

The lesson can’t be from all of this: there is no such thing as the fairy tale. There is no such thing as things working out beautifully for you in all areas of life. I don’t want to get cynical. I want to keep my childlike faith. I really really want to. I think I will be able to, but this can’t be the lesson. It just can’t. It can’t be a reality check. I don’t want to believe in reality checks. I want to believe in a huge God capable of huge, miraculous things in the lives of His children. I need to believe in 2 Chronicles 16:9, that His eyes are on the lookout for those who are faithful, for whom He can show Himself strong. I need to believe this. I just do.

While I was pretty wrecked for the next eighteen months or so, God did do something the very next day for me. I didn’t realize the magnitude of it until much later, but He did show up in my life in a powerful way. And it’s important to reflect on because I believe He wants us to stay childlike in our faith, even when everything is falling apart. It’s so very hard sometimes, but He realizes that and shares in our suffering – and if we listen closely and pay attention to things around us, we will see Him move.

It’s so very hard sometimes, but He realizes that and shares in our suffering – and if we listen closely and pay attention to things around us, we will see Him move.

What happened was that the very next day, my friend invited me to go try to find mama loggerhead, leatherback, and green turtles. Living in Palm Beach County, we’re situated on a stretch of the Atlantic Ocean where 200-300 of these glorious beasts emerge from the water every night (and sometimes during daylight hours) to lay their eggs during the nesting season of April through September. However, you don’t see them all the time. It’s comparatively rare. And I’d been out before and had never had any success stumbling across one.

I had been sad and in bed all day, and was in no mood to leave my house, but for whatever reason I felt led to say yes when asked. And so we met up at around 10pm, and just started walking South along the shoreline on Palm Beach Island. The moon was almost full, and it was a beautiful still night with only a gentle lapping of the sea on the sand. There was a warm breeze which helped keep the mosquitoes away…and while I was out there, I realized I was super thankful not to be at home mired in my misery.

Over the course of the next four hours, we walked up and down the shoreline of Palm Beach Island.  And God gave me nine mama loggerhead turtles, up-close and personal.  If you think about it, that is mind-blowing, as most people go their whole lives and never see even a single one. We got close enough to eight of them to touch them if we wanted to (we didn’t). We remained quiet and tiptoed softly around them so they wouldn’t get spooked or alarmed.  We knew they needed to peacefully make it up the beach and deposit their eggs, cover the nest with sand, and then head back to the water. We even sat motionless by one for at least thirty minutes and watched its laborious efforts to dig a nest.  It just felt miraculous to be so close to such majestic and prehistoric-looking sea creatures, and it was almost too much to take in and process. I just shook my head and smiled in amazement, as it had lifted me out of my sadness for a night.

sea-turtle-laying-eggs

When I got home, I took the time to write out my thoughts following the experience. For one, I felt really special, like God was personally giving me a gift with every turtle. I had seen turtle eggs in their nest a few years ago, and little turtle babies one morning after surfing and talking to a volunteer who was tending a nest, but I had never seen a mama before. They were so enthralling to watch. It was like God pulled back a veil to give me a glimpse of something extraordinary and otherworldly. There was no one else around when we were out there on the shoreline, and it felt like we were on another planet.

sea-turtle-eggs

And now that I am thinking about it, I’ve gone out numerous times since then with friends and haven’t seen another. It’s almost like God provided the highest of highs for me while I was at the lowest of lows. He meets us right where we need Him to, because He knows our story and feels our pain and knows what we’re going through. His timing is perfect, and His ways are perfect. I haven’t needed Him to come through like that since, but I definitely needed it on that day of tremendous heartbreak and heartache.  I know I will suffer loss and devastation in the future, and what makes it easier for me to face is knowing that He will once again somehow show up and be there for me.  I can count on it.  I am confident He will respond in a perfectly-crafted way – specific to my situation, my needs, and the tenderness of my heart.

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Another interesting thing was that I kept looking backwards (while we were walking forwards) to see if there were any turtles we missed, or that were coming out of the water behind us. However, my friend only looked forward and believed that if we were going to see a turtle, it was going to be in front of us, and that we weren’t going to miss it. I thought that was profound. And maybe a message from God to me as well, perhaps related to my broken heart and perhaps related to everything in life. Because upon reflection, eight of the nine turtles were right in front of us (what are the odds of that?!), and while I did see a turtle behind us on our walk back to the car, it never fully left the water.

So I took that as a reminder that I want to try to live life not looking backwards. Even though it’s hard, since I have a natural tendency to evaluate and dwell on the past.  Especially when the bottom falls out, and when I think I’ve lost my chance and life is never going to get better.  I think the entire experience showed me that God does have special gifts for me, that he is a huge God capable of huge, miraculous things in the lives of His children. And that He is going to keep showing me in unique and soul-stirring ways that I am loved so much by Him, and that I am not going to miss them. I’m just not. I just need to keep moving forward and not look back, and not think that I have missed something.

I think the entire experience showed me that God does have special gifts for me, that he is a huge God capable of huge, miraculous things in the lives of His children.

I felt the real weight of this realization at that moment. And really, I still feel it right now. I’ve thought a lot about what He has for me, and for my loved ones, and I remain convinced that we cannot miss out on His best as long as we are staying close to Him, getting counsel from loved ones, and operating in faith instead of fear. We cannot miss out on His best. Even if we think we have, and even if we actually somehow have, He is beyond loving, and He will bring it back around to us again so we didn’t actually miss it. He’ll put it back in front of us, He’ll re-introduce it into our lives.

Typically, though, whatever it was wasn’t really His best for us.  And if we can just wait a while, He will bring along something more perfect. There is so much freedom in this realization. So much space to live and breathe and make choices and just TRUST. I’m pretty positive He doesn’t want us on tilt all the time, stressed out as to the future. He just wants us to keep moving forward and not look back, staying expectant for Him to do something incredible. To the faithful, He will show Himself strong.

Ever since that night, sea turtles have held a special place in my heart. I think you can understand why.  They were God’s instrument of love to me, reminding me in such a special, personal way that the best is yet to come. The best was yet to come, but I was in a very bad place that day, and couldn’t see it, couldn’t conceive of it. And so He chose to do something tangible, something magical in my life, to encourage me to let go of the past and believe for the future. My hope was at death’s door, but He intervened through nature, through sea creatures nesting. And it kept hope alive.

Image sources:

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http://fohn.net/green-turtles-facts-pictures/images/Laying-Eggs-800×600.jpg
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http://d2tipiv4cs5bo1.cloudfront.net/d4/5f/0f5f81734131ac30e54e9b3290b8/feeling-the-heat-with-jeff-corwin-sea-turtles-video-image.jpg

How Faith Helps You Climb Mountains and Get Home Safe

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Rachel adores The Sound of Music. Personally, I knew all of the songs from as far back as I can remember (I am pretty sure my parents had me watch it when I was seven), but I really didn’t remember the storyline. I mean, I remembered a nun, a bunch of cute kids, some Nazis, and a LOT of singing. But that’s really it. Well, on our recent trip backpacking across Europe, we spent a few days visiting Austria – where the movie was set and largely filmed – and I decided I needed to take the time to watch it with full attention.

I have to tell you, after finally watching it as a grown-up, I was blown away. I absolutely loved it! I mean, you probably love it too.  It’s a masterpiece in every way, with stunning landscapes and cinematography, and a soundtrack you can sing for the rest of your life.

Even more, though, I think I loved it so much because I was drawn to Julie Andrews as Maria. She portrayed a person with an approach to life that is just so winsome, so infectious. She is cute and fun and playful, with her doe-eyed earnestness contrasted by just the right amount of mischievousness. Plus, she sings like an angel, gets along with everyone, and loves adventure. Finally, in my mind she demonstrates so much childlike faith in how she approached the world and interacted with others. In so many ways, she epitomizes that term. Watch the movie again with this concept in mind, and you’ll totally see what I mean.

I have always felt like there is something powerful to this notion of childlike faith – something weighty, something transformative. And I’ve thought about it – and tried to live it out – every single day, for decades. Because I’ve needed to have faith every single day, for all of these years, many of them fraught with difficulties and challenges made me fearful, made me want to give up. I don’t know how I would have made it this far without it.

Most of the time, I am successful in approaching life with childlike faith, because I’ve always said that I want my life to be a grand experiment – where I intentionally believe that things are going to go my way – not because of positive thinking, but because of the promises in God’s Word.  His Word is my anchor – the truth I can stand on –  and that billions have stood on for millennia.

I’m not going to lie, though – some days are rough, and I lose focus and energy, and forget His promises, and regress to doubts and anxiety about my present and my future. Things aren’t ever perfect, but I really thought that one day, they would be. I really believed that one day, my relationships and work and health and confidence would all just line up perfectly and be amazing, and stay that way.

But over time I’ve come to the realization that that just never happens. It’s not going to. And if it did, we wouldn’t really need childlike faith, or God for that matter. We’d just be incredibly amped up about how fantastic life always was, and have a grand old time living it up. What I’ve learned is that we need to choose childlike faith every day, when it’s easy and when it’s hard.

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The Untersburg Mountain – with its infamous lopsided peak – towers proudly over the city of Salzburg and surrounding areas, and is the mountain which Maria loves and frolicks upon at the beginning of The Sound of Music while singing “The Hills Are Alive.”  It is an epic scene indelibly etched in our minds’ eye as well in as our hearts, and – I found out – it is an epic hike to the summit. And while in Austria, we knew we had to do it, because really, how awesome would it be to climb to the top of Maria’s mountain!?!? So awesome.

While we were eager to tackle it, we were both a bit worn out from the previous hikes of our trip. And by the time we got about halfway to the top of the Untersburg, we were pretty thrashed. We were exposed on the rock and had no shade from the beating sun, we were out of water, and we had already finished our lunch and most of our snacks. We actually thought about turning around and heading back down the trail.  But we had one singular hope that kept us going – there was a popular cable car ascent to the top, and we figured that if we could just summit, we could ride it down instead of descending by foot.  And so we pressed on.

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Eventually, we found a supply of water coming out of a pipe in the mountain that we had read was safe to drink. It was cool, and refreshing, and tasted better than any water I had known before. And so I filled up our bottles and also my body, and we soldiered on. From this point, it was pretty treacherous all the way to the top, as we had to climb a steep set of wet and slippery rocks next to a sheer drop into the valley below. Mountaineers before us had installed a braided metal cord into the rocks so we had something to grasp as we maneuvered upwards, and while that helped on one side, there was nothing but a long fall to certain death on the other side.

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Rachel begged me to hold the cord with two hands, just to be safe.  I could tell that she was really scared, and that it was taking all the courage she could muster to not look down and not look back.  Along the hike, we saw numerous memorials mounted into the cliff face, honoring the spot where other climbers had fallen and lost their lives.  We soberly recognized it could happen to us as well, and so we went very slowly, held onto the metal cord, and offered encouragement to each other until we both successfully reached the top of the trail.

It was such a great feeling to finally arrive there.  We were safe and on solid ground, and we had made it!  However, we realized immediately that there was a second trail we now needed to take uphill for another 45 minutes to actually get to the cable car station.  I know that doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but we were wiped out.  It struck me that life is like this sometimes – you think you’ve arrived and then it’s like surprise, just kidding, ­you still have a long ways to go!

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We wanted to rage in that moment, but it wouldn’t have done any good.  And we were still in a time crunch – we had to get up to the cable car before its ascent/descent schedule had ended for the day.  So we couldn’t even sit down and rest.  We had to put our head down, and keep moving, telling ourselves that we had gotten this far and just needed to go a little further before we could relax on the cable car ride down to the valley below.

When we got to the station, though, we were in for another surprise. We found out that the cable car we had seen going up and down the mountain was actually for a group of about 30 workers who were doing construction. The foreman who greeted us stated in no uncertain terms that it was closed to all visitors and tourists. And that if we just turned around and started down the trail, we’d be at the bottom in a couple of hours.  Crap. Thanks, man.

rachel-untersburg-mountain-nervous

I remember feeling my heart drop into my stomach. In my head, I thought, if it was a do or die situation, I could get both of us down this mountain. But I knew that I was pretty worn out, and Rachel was starting to feel sick.  And so I decided to ask the foreman if there was any way that we could ride down with him and the rest of his team at the end of their day. He replied that he personally couldn’t allow it, but that he would call his boss down below in the valley and ask him to make an exception. And then he asked us to have a seat on a bench outside the station, and give him a few minutes.

When Rachel and I looked at each other at that moment, I could see disappointment and concern in her eyes. I am sure I betrayed the same, but I also immediately remembered those words: childlike faith. I wanted to believe that this was going to work out for us. Because God loves us. Because He is the author of all good things. Because He delights in us, and He supplies our every need. And so I was going to believe. I consciously made that choice in that moment. And both of us just sat on that bench, quietly praying and believing that God would make a way.

This mindset has become a part of me, and isn’t something that I arrive at after a battle between idealism and realism in my mind. It used to be like that, but it got easier when I kept seeing that there was no better option for me than to trust Him, no matter the situation. Yes, sometimes things don’t work out the way I want or expect them to. But they do work out according to the plans of a loving Creator who knows more than I do about what’s best for my life. And that’s good enough for me.

untersburg-cable-car-austria

After about five minutes, the foreman returned. And he smiled at us. His boss had said that we could go down with the workers in the cable car. Relief and gratefulness washed over us like a flood. And shortly thereafter, we found ourselves packed like sardines into a cable car with 30 other construction workers who all looked at us oddly and laughed and joked among themselves in German. I don’t even care if they were making fun of us, and if they thought of us as stupid American tourists who foolishly would have been stuck on the top of the Alps if it weren’t for them. My heart and intentions were in the right place. We hiked to the top, didn’t know about the cable car closure despite our research, and God lent us a hand so we wouldn’t be miserable, get injured, or hate life on the hike down. I love that about Him. He understood our situation, saw our hearts, and rescued us. Thanks, God!

Childlike faith is a simple concept, but one that all of us unnecessarily complicate. Perhaps this is because life, as we live it, naturally becomes increasingly complicated. But maybe we consciously can fight against that trend by choosing to believe for the best, regardless of how things look or what our emotions are saying to us. Maybe we’ll be disappointed, but maybe – just maybe – we won’t.

Regardless of the outcome, the choice deepens our relationship with Him, helps us experience peace instead of chaos, allows us to pointedly reject fear and worry, and keeps our heart open and hopeful instead of closed-off and hopeless. And the best thing about it is that the choice is, and always will be, available for everyone.

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When our Hearts are Restless

child like faith
Just like at the beginning of a new year, the beginning of my summer gives me a chance to consider how the first few five months have gone, and recalibrate my trajectory if I’ve gone a bit off track.  While it was a successful Spring semester, I do wish I would have spent more time with God.  Those of you who know me know that at the end of my life, I want to be able to say that I relied on Him and followed His lead above all, instead of doing things my way and based on my whims.

But my tangible actions have to reflect that choice.  This is my Grand Experiment of Faith.

Right now, the questions I keep coming back to are: Is it possible for me, Sameer, to be called a friend of God?  Can I get to a place where when He sees me, He is able to say that I chase after His own heart?  And, is there a chance that I can be so intimately linked up to Him that He shares with me things that He reserves for only a select few?

I think so.  I mean, why Abraham and not me?  Why David, and not me?  And why shouldn’t I chase after that possibility, if it is there for me to seize, for us to seize?

But are these things even real, and worth pursuing?  I mean, pursuing as if they were palpable, attainable things – as much as I’ve pursued a college degree, or romantic love, or healthy living?

I am tired of everything in my life that doesn’t fully satisfy, doesn’t truly satisfy, doesn’t endlessly satisfy.  And there are lots of good things here for me to enjoy:

→ a hot cup of tea on a leisurely morning

→ gourmet jellybeans

→ my favorite sports teams

→ success in my work

→ intimacy with my wife

But I still want more.  And I don’t think it’s about me being content with what I have. Instead, I think it’s about what St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions: “You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.”

I get weary and burdened sometimes, and Jesus promises me rest.  I scramble and grasp for something – anything – to fill me up and satisfy me completely, and Jesus promises me life to the fullest.  But He makes clear that these things demand and depend on a deep, bi-directional relationship with Him.  I’ve been there – so very close to Him, walking in step, feeling as if I were the apple of His eye, and being fully satisfied by that relationship with no other need or want.  I’ve been there multiple times in my life.  And I really want to get back.

The days keep slipping by.  Frankly, the decades keep slipping by.  There is no better time than the present.  And I don’t think there is a more noble endeavor in which I can spend my life than this. 

So I’m getting after it this summer.  The days keep slipping by.  Frankly, the decades keep slipping by.  There is no better time than the present.  And I don’t think there is a more noble endeavor in which I can spend my time than this.  Again, nothing else works.  Nothing else even comes close.  I know it.  You know it.

The cool thing is, something tells me – deep down – that I won’t be disappointed.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

For the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you.

But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.

I mean, those are promises to me.  PROMISES.  To me, to you, to anyone who choose to believe them and live them out.  But we can’t fool Him.  We can’t seek Him halfheartedly.  Or even 99%-heartedly.  I know.  I’ve tried.  Over and over again, I’ve tried.

And so as I begin to live this out wholeheartedly, I want to be able to answer “yes” to the following question when I lay my head down on my pillow each night:

Did I chase after Him today, more than I chased after anything else?

More than I chased after:

→ social connection

→ affirmation

→ career success

→ money

→ popularity and fame

→ entertainment

→ distraction

→ health and fitness

It’s going to be hard.  Really hard.  But I will know every night, after genuinely appraising my day.  I’m up for that candid self-reflection.  And the changes it prompts in my life.

God has provided instructions in the simplest of terms on what to do.  And yet, I make it complicated.  I just don’t want to do that anymore.

Thus begins my summer of seeking.  It’s scary typing this out, because now I’m accountable to those who have cared enough to follow my blog, read my words, and hear my heartbeat through these entries.  But I want this more than anything.  Let me know if you want to join me, and we can keep each other accountable to do our part and watch Him do His.  And make this the best summer ever.

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How to Get Over the Girl

pikes peak
So there was this one time where I really liked a particular girl.  It was way back in 2005.  She was all wrong for me, but I still wanted it to work, and gave it my all because I thought it just might.  I would be sweet and endearing and thoughtful.  I would demonstrate in meaningful ways how much I cared about her and her family.  I would put in the effort to keep in touch on a regular basis.  But something wasn’t right…and I would think to myself, man, it shouldn’t be this hard.  But I didn’t have a reference point against which to measure what a great relationship looks like.  And “on paper,” it seemed like we would be great together.  To be honest, I think it was one of those situations where the timing was wrong.  In the past, she had seemingly liked me, but I wasn’t feeling it.  And now, I really liked her, and she wasn’t feeling it.  But I couldn’t let it go, and detach.  It felt like it was taking over my entire life, and it was eating me up inside.  Constant questions filled my mind: “What is wrong with her?”  “Why won’t she reciprocate?” “What am I doing wrong?” “Why isn’t this working?” And my mind and my world WOULD NOT STOP SPINNING.

Have you ever felt this way?  It’s so awful.  When you’re caught up in it – whether it involves a girl, or a boy, or a friendship, or something at school, or at work, or even with a parent – you’re just a complete mess.  You have zero perspective, you can’t see the forest for the trees, and it’s like you’re in a deep, dark hole that you’ve unwittingly dug for yourself.  But you have no idea how it even happened.  It just did.  You’re just stuck – and the hole is seriously getting deeper.

Have you ever felt this way?  It’s so awful.  You have zero perspective, you can’t see the forest for the trees, and it’s like you’re in a deep, dark hole that you’ve unwittingly dug for yourself.  But you have no idea how it even happened.  It just did.

Eventually, you may get to a point where you are completely unstable, and it starts to affect the other areas of your life.  And those who care about you are so confused, and begging you to get a grip because that one thing – in my case, a girl – can’t possibly have such power and control and influence over you.  And you know that’s correct, but it doesn’t change the fact that right now, you are in a total fog.  And every day is getting increasingly worse.  And you feel completely helpless.  I’ve been there.  It sucks so much.

What do you do in these situations?  Well, there is no easy answer.  And in those moments, it’s hard to even hear suggested answers, let alone implement them – despite the good intentions with which they are offered.  But I personally have to believe that there are things we can do, and I can at least share what has worked for me in the hopes that it can help someone.  You know I am all about childlike faith, and in my childlike faith I am convinced that God doesn’t want us to get stuck in these places, and actually wants us to prevent them from even happening, as much as possible.  But I also want to be gracious towards everyone and remember that life is broken and people are broken, and issues of mental health, chemical imbalances, and unbelievably painful pasts complicate the situation tremendously.  So, I share this with hesitation but in love.

Regain Control of Your Mind

First, I remind myself that because Christ lives inside of me and given us the Holy Spirit as a deposit, I can take every thought captive and make it obedient to how He would want me to think.  I truly believe that.  We are not supposed to just swallow all of the ideas created by our untrustworthy and random emotions, and assume they are the truth – the truth about who we are, what we’re worth, and what our future looks like.  But so many people do.  We can agree that our emotions are all over the place, and yet we allow those emotions to guide how we feel, and most of what we say and do.  As if they were trustworthy.  Which they are not.

We can agree that our emotions are all over the place, and yet we allow those emotions to guide how we feel, and most of what we say and do.  As if they were trustworthy.  Which they are not.

I can’t take every thought captive in my own strength.  I’ve tried.  Perhaps you’ve tried as well.  It may work for a short while, but not long-term.  And it’s fallible, because I am fallible.  The cool thing is that it is not solely up to us, and that He is ready and willing to help.  I know it’s hard for a lot of people to think that we have actual, real spiritual support when we live in a world and culture that exalts science and disparage spirituality (which I find funny, because science hasn’t – and can’t – prove absolutely everything).  But the fact of the matter is that if you are a believer, He is there to help you.

Set Yourself Up For Small Victories

But, I can’t do it arbitrarily or randomly.  I actually have to be more intentional than that to get out of the hole I’m in.  And so I once again remind myself that His Spirit is within me, enabling me to do all things, and I to go on “mini-streaks” in my mind.  So when it comes to this girl who I could not let go of and get over, I would try not to think about her for ten minutes straight.  If she entered my thinking, I would remember His words, and outright reject the thought of her and figuratively cut her out of my thought life.

I knew it had to be a clean break.  I couldn’t allow her to have a foothold – or even a toehold – in my mind, given how emotionally wrapped up and messed up I was at that point.  And I didn’t need to be reminded of her in any capacity, and she had to be deleted from my phone and blocked on social media.  Nothing against her, of course – I just needed to do what I needed to do to regain stability and health.  That’s most important anyway, and so I couldn’t hesitate to take drastic measures if my actual well-being was the goal.  If I got to ten minutes of not thinking about her, I would feel really thankful and proud of myself.  And then I would try to get to thirty minutes.  And then an hour.

And I didn’t need to be reminded of her in any capacity, and she had to be deleted from my phone and blocked on social media.  Nothing against her, of course – I just needed to do what I needed to do to regain stability and health.

It wasn’t easy.  It took me a solid week to keep her out of my thoughts for an hour.  But I was making progress.  And after many weeks, I got to an entire day.  And then I knew that it was happening.  He was helping me conquer this.  And I was getting back on track.

Use Your Faith to Defend Against Attacks

It wasn’t easy or automatic.  Thoughts of her did creep back in sometimes.  But when they did, what also helped me was reminding myself to take up the shield of faith.  And yes, that is metaphorical, but it actually activated my mind and heart to lift up and set in place a figurative “force field” of sorts – something to stop and deflect and extinguish all of the fiery arrows (negative thoughts) that are volleyed against me.  I don’t care where they come from – from my own self-doubt and fear, from societal pressures and expectations of what I or my life should look like, from Satan – it doesn’t matter.  God wants us to remember the agency He has given us to overcome.

You would agree that no one and no thing has the right to physically abuse you, and you would do absolutely everything in your power to keep it from happening.  However, we are sometimes willing participants in our own emotional abuse.

To be honest, some days the negative thoughts keep coming.  They are relentless, and they are vicious.  But I am not a helpless victim.  You would agree that no one and no thing has the right to physically abuse you, and you would do absolutely everything in your power to keep it from happening.  However, we are sometimes willing participants in our own emotional abuse.  And we don’t do a single thing to stop it, let alone everything in our power.  We just take it.  But He’s told us what we should do, and He has promised us to help us along the way.  We just have to do our part and implement His instructions, instead of looking everywhere else for advice and solutions.

Build an Altar of Remembrance

Finally, I am a big fan of altars of remembrance.  This is when I create a defined moment in the history of my life where I give something over to God in a profound, hallowed, and ceremonial way.  This has been modeled by so many heroes of the faith, and to me their lives are worth emulating in this manner.  So, in 2005, I flew out to Colorado, and my best friend Dan and I decided to climb the 14,110 feet of Pikes Peak in Manitou Springs.  Because I wasn’t acclimated to the altitude, it was a pretty miserable six-hour slog to the top for me.  But I had to get to the summit, and I wasn’t going to quit no matter what.  Along the way, I thought about the girl, and my life, and attempted to view the situation from God’s perspective.  I thought about His love for me, and His epic plans for my future, and how I knew without a doubt that He didn’t want me struggling so much like this.  Over a girl.  And frankly, over anything.  And I knew I wanted to be completely done with it, and surrender it over to Him, fully letting go and fully letting God provide me the right relationship He had for me at the right time.

And so when we got to the top, I remember catching a snowflake on my tongue (it had just started snowing right up there at the top – even though it was the middle of August) and then corralled Dan and our other friends together over on the side, off the beaten path, and away from other hikers.  And I reached into my backpack and took out a pen and some scrap paper.  And I told them that I had been struggling with something that was weighing heavily on my heart, and that I needed closure.  And I told them I was going to write it on a bit of paper and then bury it at the top of Pikes Peak.  And leave it here, forever, and be done with it.

I told them that I had been struggling with something that was weighing heavily on my heart, and that I needed closure.  And I told them I was going to write it on a bit of paper and then bury it at the top of Pikes Peak.  And leave it here, forever, and be done with it.

And Dan spoke up and said that he’d love to do the same thing, and one by one so did our other friends.  And so I tore small pieces off of my scrap paper and handed them out, and everyone wrote down at least one thing (and perhaps more) that they were dealing with, and that was holding them back and messing them up.  And we all folded up our pieces of paper (mine, of course, had the girl’s name on it) and created a hole into which they could be deposited.  And after covering them up with a lot of rocks, we all stood over the spot in a circle and prayed.  We prayed that God would honor our heart’s desire to pursue emotional health by deliberately burying what was plaguing us, what was worrying us, what was causing us to not trust Him.  And there, we let them go.

When I got back to Florida and the girl randomly popped into my mind, I told myself that I had left her and the hope of the relationship at the top of Pikes Peak.  That was my altar of remembrance, where God and I ended one chapter, and started another.  And that helped me so much.  I have altars of remembrance in certain places across America, definitely in Florida, and even in other countries (when I’ve gone on missions trips).  And they represent other areas in my life too – not just involving girls. And taking every thought captive and employing my shield of faith has gotten markedly easier as I’ve put these strategies into regular and constant practice.  It takes a long while, but you do reach a tipping point, and I can’t emphasize how much it is worth it.

When I start to head in a bad direction because of something in my life, this is exactly what I do.  Nothing more, and nothing less.  It isn’t magic, and it doesn’t perfectly solve every problem.  But it truly can make a drastic difference.  When you are starting to flounder and fail, maybe you can try these techniques.  Just try to do so as early as possible, because the longer you let it go, the harder it is to escape the deep, dark hole you’re in.  But no matter where you find yourself, do not give up.  There is always, always hope. There is always a way out.

When You Are Scared of Sudden Disaster

childlike faith
When I look back upon my life, I realize that the most unproductive thing I can do is to fear the future. And yet, I have done it. I mean, we all have done it. We just want life turn out a certain way, and we pour ourselves out to make that happen, and don’t want our blood, sweat, and tears to be wasted. And so we spend even more of our time and energy tossing things over and over in our heads.

But the reality is that certain things are ultimately out of our control.

We just want life turn out a certain way, and we pour ourselves out to make that happen, and don’t want our blood, sweat, and tears to be wasted.

We can’t control if we will land our dream job, and if we do – we can’t control how our boss treats us, or our co-workers treat us, or whether it will fulfill us as much as we thought it would. We often can’t control what happens to our physiological health. Even with exercise and a great diet, things can take a turn for the worse because of a genetic predisposition, a freak injury, or even simply due to the natural aging process we all face. We can’t control the choices our girlfriend or boyfriend or spouse or even children will make in the future. We can love them, advise them, shepherd them, teach them, encourage them, remind them, and even plead with them, but they will invariably do what they want to do – even if their actions harm themselves or others. We can’t even control what is done with our money and property down the road. We could be incredibly hard-working, wise, and investment-savvy, but we could lose it all in a moment with a bad deal or random disaster. Or, it could be stolen or frittered away by those who come after us.

The older I get, the more I realize that control is so elusive. Actually, it’s more than elusive – it’s an illusion. You live enough years, and you totally understand this. And if you don’t, yet, you will. It’s one of the hardest lessons we all have to eventually learn.

The older I get, the more I realize that control is so elusive. Actually, it’s more than elusive – it’s an illusion.

With that said, though, those of you who know me know that I am an eternal optimist. You know pessimists by their belief that “if anything can go wrong, it will.”  Well, I deeply and truly believe that “if anything can go right, it will.” Seriously. And I know it’s one thing to say that you are an optimist, but another thing to actually walk the walk. I really try to walk it out. And it isn’t swagger, or arrogance, or confidence in myself. Really, it isn’t. I do believe in myself and my abilities, but I also know that with so much out of my control, it can’t solely be up to me. It just can’t. And frankly, I don’t want it to be.

And so my confidence has to be in something outside of myself. And decades ago, I found it in God. The cool thing is, He has never let me down. Sure, I’ve been disappointed, and hurt, and even broken by life and the circumstances that have come my way, but in the big picture, He has worked all of those things out for my good, for my benefit, for my intrinsic or extrinsic gain.

Being into God – and having a personal, living, vibrant relationship with His son Jesus – has shown me over the years that His Word is true. All that I’ve learned from it and put into action has been of great value in my life. It’s provided me with emotional stability, guidance for romantic relationships, wisdom related to work, lessons for living, ways to conquer doubt, reasons for hope, reminders on the brevity of life, peace in the midst of stormy situations, and so much more. And one of the things that has been helping me recently has been God’s ability – through His Word – to allay any fears that sneak their way into my thoughts and emotions about what the future holds. And it’s been really powerful.

My main fear is that at some point, the bottom will fall out. The other shoe will drop. The wind will shift and the house of cards will all come tumbling down. That’s what I worry about.

My main fear is that at some point, when I am not expecting it…the bottom will fall out. The other shoe will drop. The wind will shift and the house of cards will all come tumbling down. That’s what I worry about. Not always, but definitely sometimes. And when I talk to others, they often echo the same sentiments. They’re concerned that despite their best intentions, efforts, and even prayers, disaster will strike. Suddenly. With their job, their health, their relationships, their family, or their money. At some time or another.

And so we fret. And sometimes freak out.

And scramble to secure ourselves against sudden disaster.

But it’s exhausting. And we’re running themselves ragged. And even when we do all the things we think of doing, we still feel unsettled. Like there is more that should be done, that can be done.

And our lives are filled with anxious thoughts and worried days and sleepless nights. And there is no peace to be found.

There are two verses that I have built my life upon that help me in these moments. And I remember them, and I remind myself of them in my head whenever I start to fret and freak out.

Proverbs 3:25-26

Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.

Psalm 112:7-8

They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.

I fully, completely believe those words – most of the time. And on days that I struggle, I meditate on them, and repeat them to myself, and fight to get them embedded into my heart. They help me to let go. They help me to trust. Just like so much else in the Bible, they aren’t just words on a page, but promises to me. Because God doesn’t want me always spinning, always on edge, just waiting for something to go wrong. He wants me to surrender, and expect for things to go right, and – more importantly – for things to keep going right.

The title of this blog is Childlike Faith because I really believe that it is the answer to so many of our difficult questions. When we were a kid, we believed and trusted and were convinced that life was going to be good to us, that God was going to be good to us. But then hardships and letdowns and so much pain came along, and we lost that innocent, wide-eyed, soft-hearted approach to it all. And He asks us to go back to that mindset. It’s super hard – especially when you haven’t done it a lot – but it does get easier the more you make it your objective, no matter what. I keep doing it, and it’s become who I am – and people know it and I know it and God knows it and I am so thankful. And again, it helps so much.

It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks or says or does. It doesn’t matter what the future holds. He’s got me. And He is good.

I refuse to believe that sudden disaster is going to strike my job situation or body or wife or future kids or savings or anything like that. And I refuse to spend my life worrying about and fearing any bad news that might come my way. Instead, I want to remember that truth of those verses: that He is right next to me, He keeps my feet from any traps or trapdoors, and my heart is steadfast because my life is perfectly secure in His hands. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks or says or does. It doesn’t matter what the future holds. He’s got me. And He is good. I don’t want to be pessimistic, or cynical, or suspicious of His goodness towards me – now or in the future. I just want to trust. I just want to relinquish my desire for control to Him. And I just want to enjoy the peace He willingly provides, if we will let go of what we’re holding onto and take it instead.

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Does God Share Secrets With You?

To start the new year off right, I’m reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and it’s teaching me a lot about counting my blessings on a daily basis, and how that directly produces joy in life. I will probably blog about the book when I am done because I’m finding it life-changing, but for now I want to write about something else that the book prompted within me.

Ann is an unbelievably good writer. In my opinion, she stands way far apart from the vast majority of writers I’ve read. How so?  Well, for starters, she doesn’t interpret everything around her through her natural, myopic, micro-level perspective.  Rather, she takes it all in through a faith-infused and Christ-centric worldview. She sees God palpably at work in her experiences – both the mundane and the magical – and her words so vividly describe the details of her life while as the same time providing her viewpoint of those details through God’s eyes. Second, she seems privy to so much more than the rest of us. It’s like, God lifts the veil for her, and reveals to her special, unique insights that largely escape you and me (which reminds me of The Matrix).  She sees with spiritual eyes, and is given discernment and wisdom that simply does not come from her own mind. And she is gifted (by Him) with the ability to see connections, relationships, symbolism, and metaphorical parallels that are really incredible and otherworldly. And what she notices (and writes about) is what makes her so special, and what feeds back into her spiritual life, which of course shapes and improves her unique and incomparable perspective even more.

It’s like, God lifts the veil for her, and reveals to her special, unique insights that largely escape you and me.

I want that. I want that so badly.

This is the reason why Ann is such a good writer, and why she is set apart. And what I have been thinking is that this ability – this gift – is rooted in her cultivation of a deep, verdant relationship with her Lord. Over years, over decades. Through tons and tons of time spent with Him, doing life with Him. And I should point out here that she doesn’t live in a convent or abbey, outside of the hustle and bustle of life as you and I know it. She is married with six kids and works with her husband on a huge farm. She’s constantly busy. And I can relate to that. But she pulls it off, she stays linked up to Him, rooted in Him. And she maintains and protects and refines her perspective, holding off and fighting off anything that might compromise it or ruin it. And that gives me hope.

I want to change people’s lives with my words, with the words He gives me to share. And with this new year upon me, I wonder – okay, might this be the year? Is this when something epic finally happens with this blog, with my writing? But now I am thinking – or, rather, being reminded – that there are no shortcuts and that I do not want to rush this. I want it to blossom from a seed, a deposit from Him and from Him alone. I don’t want it to be out of my own limited intellect and ideas. I know me, and my thoughts are not as high as His thoughts, nor my ways anywhere close to His ways. I’m not brilliant, but He is. And I want what I share to be brilliant, special, set apart, unique. I want them to be transcendent in scope, instead of worldly and narrow-reaching and largely ineffectual. Honestly, I know that if it comes from only me and my human brain and incomplete perspective, it will be pretty anemic in its effect, influence, and reach – at least compared to what God can do if it’s from Him instead.

If it comes from only me and my human brain and incomplete perspective, it will be pretty anemic in its effect, influence, and reach – at least compared to what God can do.

It is so clear to me that the best writers about faith and life are the ones who have walked the long, hard journey alongside their Leader, Forgiver, and Friend. And that remains their priority above all else, well above their writing goals or ministry efforts. Most of the time, I live that out, but sometimes I lose my way and focus more on the goal, the product, the fruit that I want my labors to bear. Right now, He is lovingly reminding me that it will come if my relationship with Him is the goal, above all else. What is more, He is showing me that such a relationship – and all He reveals to me because of it – will produce the joy, the satisfaction, the life to the full that I want, that I need, that I know is out there for me, and that I have known so well before.

I guess the bottom line, for this New Year – and frankly for the rest of my life – is that I want Him to deem me worthy of sharing with me the secret things.

The things of which no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human mind has conceived (1 Cor 2:9).

The profound and hidden things (Daniel 2:22).

The great and mighty things, which I do not know (Jeremiah 33:3).

I really do understand it will only come through the relationship I am cultivating with Him. This is my heart’s desire. Way more than me writing about it, and inspiring others that way – although I will want to do that. Most of all, I just want to be close to Him, stay close to Him, and see and notice and interpret things His way, the right way. A new way, a fresh way, a non-derivative and eye-opening and hopeful and extraordinary way. Like Ann Voskamp does.

I hope this doesn’t sound too ethereal, too supernatural, too impractical for those who are reading this. I’ve done practical, and it is always restrictive and colorless, and doesn’t get me anywhere. I know God is real, that His promises are true, and that His ideas are the best ideas. And I know I can experience Him powerfully and profoundly in my life. Actually, it’s completely available to anyone who is interested!

I like to say that I want to live my life as a grand experiment of faith. The crazy thing is that I have never been let down in living this way. Ever. This is just one more experiment, and I am confident He will not fail to prove me right as long as I strive to keep my heart, my devotion, and my relationship with Him in the right place. One day of this new year at a time.

Image source: bit.ly/1IUp0Tc

When You’re Counting, You’re Not Trusting

So, one of the stories in the Bible that has struck and always stayed with me is from 1 Chronicles 21:1 (and from 2 Samuel 24:1). Basically, God had ended a three-year famine, and David’s kingdom was thriving. His nemesis Saul was dead, and he had recently crushed the Philistines, Moabites, and Ammonites, and he was pummeling any enemies that went up against him. And everything was going along quite epically during this mountaintop season of his life. But then it says that David was incited to take a census of his fighting men. That is, he felt led to count up the size of his army.

No big deal, right? Actually, it was.

Back in the day, we learned that God (in Numbers 1) told Moses and Aaron to count up the people in their respective families and then organize them in preparation for war. So, there was nothing inherently or fundamentally wrong with the action itself. However, this situation was different – because David’s motivation wasn’t pure. And it’s pretty clear what prompted his decision: pride and vanity.

David did it because he wanted to see how strong he was. How vast his army was. And he wanted it to bring him confidence, and assurance, and even a perception of control. Maybe after he was finished counting, he was like, “I got this!” or “Man, we are going to kill it and go #beastmode on anyone who even tries to mess with us!” And while it seems pretty harmless for David to quantify the enormity of his kingdom and influence and power in this way, God was not pleased. And David and the people of Israel paid a steep price, and things got really bad, really fast. Because God is all about the state of our hearts, and the reasons behind why we do the things we do. And it’s clear that David’s decision demonstrated that he had begun to trust a little too much in himself, instead of exclusively on God.

And it’s clear that David’s decision demonstrated that he had begun to trust a little too much in himself, instead of exclusively on God.

I do this. More often than I would like to admit.

Now for sure, I’ve gotten better over the decades because this cautionary tale seriously pops into my mind sometimes. But it’s still a struggle, and I still mess up some days by rationalizing away my actions as just not a big deal. And I thought that since this chapter of David’s life has left such an impression on me, it might be useful to catalogue the ways in which I have counted and numbered things.

Again, it may not seem like a big deal. But I know my heart is in the wrong place when I consider the reasons why I’m doing it….
To feel good about myself.
To feel better about my situation.
To reassure myself that I can exert some level of control on how things are going to turn out.
To validate the way I am living my life.

But all of this takes my eyes off of Him, and hollows out the marrow of my faith, and makes me think that I am the source of certain things in my life, instead of Him. I don’t want to be the source, because then everything is up to me, and that is such an exhausting and desperate way to live. I don’t want that at all.

I don’t want to be the source, because then everything is up to me, and that is such an exhausting and desperate way to live. I don’t want that at all.

So what all do I find myself counting?

  • My followers on Instagram and Twitter. I know, it’s ridiculous, but the ugly part of me sometimes believes that the extent of my social media influence proves that people like me and are interested in my life and what I have to say. And that the larger my online platform, the more professional opportunities will come my way. Most days, I know I am deluding myself because I’m pretty sure a double-tap on my latest photo doesn’t mean very much at all. But it still helps me a little when I’m struggling with self-doubt and fogginess. And most days I remember that God is in charge of giving me opportunities – and can do so in spades even if I wasn’t on social media at all (He exalts in due time (1 Peter 5:6)). But when the opportunities aren’t coming, I am so tempted to count and measure and number. And crave more. And work for more. Just to grasp at a perception of security that is completely intangible and has no real-world equivalency.I am not actually more loved, or more successful, or more fulfilled based on my metrics in cyberspace. I’m just not.
  • My money. Now, I know that it’s not really my money – I’m simply a steward of what God has entrusted to me and He expects me to use it to bless others and make His name great across the world. But here again, in the interest of trying to control my future, the temptation is to frequently take stock of where I am financially – to make sure I close to where I want to be.
    For a nest egg.
    For retirement.
    For my kids’ schooling.
    For the cars I’ll have to purchase when they turn 16.
    For the medical expenses we may have to face during our sunset years.And yes, I understand the value of financial planning, and wise investments, and money management – and I can’t be oblivious to what is going on with my bank account – but I know (and you know) when we are doing it just to feel in control, or so it can offer some reassurance that the bottom won’t fall out. But the control we feel is a complete illusion because we honestly have no clue what the future is going to bring. Life has a tendency to level us unexpectedly – perhaps to keep us on our toes, and perhaps to remind us where (and who) our source really is.
  • My citations. I don’t know what your own comparable is for this, but as an academic I am able to see how many times other scholars have referenced my papers in their publications and bibliographies. And in academia, much prestige is bestowed upon those who are cited a lot – because it means that their work is influencing the research of others. It is super tempting to keep checking this statistic. But seriously, it should not matter to me. I should do great work, to the best of my ability, and if people want to cite it, they can. And if my boss or a new potential employer wants to look it up to evaluate me, they can. But I shouldn’t, because it feeds my pride and vanity. And that is so distasteful to me. And again, a demonstration of distrust in God as my sole source.I don’t want the world’s prestige. I want His favor and kindness upon my life.
  • My years. Like everyone else, I’m growing older, and on crappy days there is this tendency to take stock of the breadth of my life and measure it against that of others….
    What awesome things have I accomplished as compared to what he or she or they have accomplished?
    What cool experiences have I had, as compared to what they have had?
    What all do I have going for me, as compared to them?And I do this so subtly, and so momentarily that I can get away with it in my head without calling myself out as a petty, jealous, insecure jerk. But I am those things, in those moments. I am. Those things are in my heart. And I do not want them there. At all. And God is not honored at all. It doesn’t matter whether I act on those feelings. And Psalm 66:18 says that if I cherish sin in my heart, He will not listen. I so need Him to always listen….

I find it really interesting that right after David had made his decision, he was immediately wracked with guilt. How many of us have been there, right after the questionable and prideful decisions we make? He felt awful and foolish, and actually begged God to forgive him and take away his iniquity and rescue him out of his conscience-stricken state. Yep, I’ve done that too. Multiple times.

I just want to trust my Heavenly Father more and more and more, with every passing day. He is sovereign, and He holds my life in His hands. There’s this great verse and truth I am reminded of from Psalm 20:7 (that was first introduced to me in a Jennifer Knapp song!) that states: Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. I love that. And actually I am now remembering another verse, from Psalm 33, which Mike Donehy of Tenth Avenue North inspired me to memorize:

No king is saved by the size of his army…no warrior escapes by his own strength…a horse is a vain hope for deliverance…despite all its great strength, it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him…on those who hope in His unwavering love…to deliver them from death, and keep them alive in famine.

Actually, that Psalm gets even better, and ends quite triumphantly with what I would totally want to be the anthem of my life as I think about all of this:

We wait in hope for the Lord…He is our strength and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, even as we put our hope in you.

Oh man, just reading again that gets me fired up! I truly and wholeheartedly believe that. I stand on that. I have built my house on that, and I have built my life on that. I want Him to keep making me ever so sensitive to when my heart is not in the right place, and to make sure that any counting I do is not motivated by pride or vanity. I know I will still stumble here and there, but I’m committed to keep getting better. Because He is worth that. And He has never let me down.

Counting on Him is so much more the better choice than counting up anything else.

(Image source: https://s3.amazonaws.com/policymic-images/fwmarisyyi9s0xrveei60c5y5nkgu7tjwemvzyvg1vnimhtrvhzcovjfqompn14p.jpg)

 

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