It’s a sign!

For the past couple of months, I have been hearing a lot of talk about “signs.” It has come up so frequently that I keep hearing the 90’s song, “The Sign” by Ace of Base playing in my head (and if I’m being perfectly honest, “Signs” by Tesla has made an appearance on the radio too). So why all this talk of signs? (By the way, I apologize for putting some of this agony on you; now you might hear these songs in your mind for the rest of the day. Sorry about that! 🙂

Some people just think they are coincidences and some people call them “God”incidences. My friend, Maureen, calls them “Godwinks.” No matter the name for them, I think they are very cool, but what exactly qualifies as one of these “signs”? Could they really be signs from God? And are they Biblical in nature or are we just grasping for validation in the choices we make and directions for the way in which we are to go?

If you ask a person who has suffered the loss of a family member or a friend if there is anything in nature that reminds them of their loved ones, I would not be surprised if they have a story to share with you about a sign that comforted them. Some people are fortunate enough that they’ve gotten to encounter their deceased loved ones in their dreams.  Many have experienced a connection with their loved one through a sign during their waking hours. I’ve heard stories including sightings of cardinals, butterflies, dragonflies, ladybugs, bees, and even the blooming of specific flowers that have brought on a flood of emotion at the possibility that they were signs.  People sometimes smell their signs—be it their grandmother’s perfume or the smell of their grandfather’s pipe. There have even been specific phrases that are heard to bring about the serenity that comes from these “Godwinks.” These experiences help us to feel close to our lost family members and friends, but I wonder, are these just coincidences or could they be signs from God?

Last month, I celebrated Valentine’s Day with my boyfriend. Like many couples on the over-commercialized day, we purchased each other Valentine’s Day cards. Before we opened our respective cards, we just knew that we had purchased each other the same card.

Valentine cards

For some reason, this unusual occurrence further confirmed in our hearts the fact that our connection to each other is a special one.

According to their website, there are 1400 different cards made by just the Hallmark company specifically for Valentine’s Day. I have no idea how many other greeting card companies have their cards available in our local stores. So what are the chances that two people buy each other the same card for Valentine’s Day—from two different stores? I can’t even pretend to be able to know the statistical possibility of this. After hearing comments from friends and family members about it, it got me wondering; is something like this simply a coincidence or is it a God-affirming sign regarding this relationship?

Over the past few years I have looked for comforting signs from God—specifically I found hearts and smiles. I felt like they just showed up in random places exactly when I needed them most. They served as a reminder to me that things weren’t all that bad. They gave my spirits a boost and provided me with a weird but comforting sense that I wasn’t alone. Also, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw them!

 Jell-O smile  eggs smile  detergent smile

So could it be possible that God provides us with these various somewhat naturally occurring signs? Well, I didn’t have to look very far into the Bible to find the first instance of a sign from God.

In Genesis 1, God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times and days and years…” (verse 14).

So right from the beginning, God was providing us with signs, specifically the sunrise and sunset. The amazing thing about this most incredible sign is that it constantly changes. The canvas is freshly painted every day by God. What a truly awesome gift from above!

I couldn’t pick just one of these pictures (most were taken by Kim Handley), so I decided to post them all. Aren’t they just breathtaking? What a beautiful way for God to remind us that He loves us and that He is providing for us.

 Sunrise 1  Sunset 2
 Sunrise 2  Sunset 1
IMG_1503 sunset cruise
IMG_1749 IMG_1579
sunrise ship sunset cross

Probably the most well-known of God’s signs is one of my favorites…the rainbow.

Genesis 9:13 states, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

We only need to sign on the dotted line to seal our contracts. God on the other hand created yet another masterpiece to guarantee His promise. I remember a time in my life when I was needing God to show me some direction. I looked up, and there it was—a sign from God–His precious rainbow.

 rainbow3jpg  rainbow2jpg  rainbow1jpg

The bottom line is that what may seem like an insignificant coincidence to one person, can feel like a nod to you from God telling you that everything is going to be alright. You can choose to be comforted by these phenomena or you can choose to dismiss them and chalk them up to pure coincidence. As for me, I choose to believe that God shows up when we need Him most. He reminds us that we are special and that we are not alone in this crazy world. And sometimes, when we need to see a sign from Him to help us know that He’s in control, He will make it as plain as day!

I got this

So what about you? Have you seen any signs from God lately? Please feel free to share in the comments section. Click on the comment bubble at the top of this blog. It is under the title of the blog with the number next to it. Also, you can sign up to subscribe to receive future emails whenever I write a new piece. Just click the menu on the top right of this page (looks like 3 horizontal lines). Then scroll down to the bottom–you will see a place to type in your email address to subscribe. Thanks!

God Will Provide

My grandmother passed away a couple of weeks ago. In a family that has been blessed by longevity, she is the first person in my immediate family to die. Gram was the family matriarch on Mom’s side of the family. Despite the fact that she was born with a handicap, Gram had a zest for life. Her mantra, “God will provide,” allowed her to enjoy every day without worrying about tomorrow.

When I was preparing the eulogy that I would give at her memorial service, I was thinking about the many ways that God provided for her—the ways that He lived up to her trust in Him. The first was before she even knew He was caring for her…I moved to Florida about 13 years ago; so now when I go back to NY, I act like a tourist. Last summer, I took my sons to see the Statue of Liberty and we visited Ellis Island. While I was there, something really powerful struck me. Gram came to America from Italy when she was about 3 years old. That would’ve been around 1923 or 1924. According to the historical records at Ellis Island during that time period, there were doctors who were doing physical and mental exams on all immigrants. If an immigrant was found to have an illness or even a physical deformity, he or she would be sent back to their country of origin. So that left me wondering, How did she do it? Gram was born with one leg shorter than the other. How did she, with her physical handicap, get passed the physical exam? Was the doctor not paying close attention or maybe he was on a break? Was her mother carrying her so they wouldn’t notice her legs? Maybe the doctor who did the examination felt sorry for her and allowed her through? It is something that we will never know. And yet, it is a moment in her life that could’ve changed absolutely everything! I wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t been granted permission to America that day! I’d like to think that it was through the grace of God that she got here and that it was His provisions that allowed her passage to her new life.

Another example of God’s goodness was when she was moved in with her family in Port Chester, NY. Apparently her parents couldn’t afford to keep her with them and they had no room for her where they were living, so they had her live with her aunt and cousins. To most children who would have to live without their parents, this would be an extremely difficult and sad situation, but to Gram, it was a blessing beyond measure! She grew up as an only child and she hated that she was alone because she never had anyone to play with. But then, when she got to live with her cousins, it was like having instant siblings. She had playmates and she loved it there. Once again, God provided for her and turned a difficult situation into a blessing. He added to that blessing ten-fold when she married my grandfather and inherited his family of nine siblings.

She never let her handicap hold her back from living every day to its fullest. She swam, danced, jumped rope, drove, worked, and traveled. She was blessed with children and grandchildren whose company she loved more than life itself. She never passed up the chance to go out to eat or to attend a party. Gram loved going to the beach and soaked in the sun. She was the first to ante up to a game of cards. She enjoyed a glass of wine at happy hour, an occasional cold beer on a hot summer’s day, Asti on New Year’s, and even a shot of Goldschlager if it was offered to her! She was always the perfect companion for a late-night movie, cup of coffee, guilt-free piece of cake, or even a casino trip. She and Pop weren’t rich by any stretch, and yet they always seemed to have just enough. Especially as they got older, they never fretted about where they would end up. They didn’t like to plan out the steps too far into the future. They didn’t dwell or complain about how they were lacking. Instead they always made the best of what they did have; they were generous with it; and they always said, “Don’t worry, God will provide.”

I don’t remember Gram being an overtly Christian woman. She wasn’t preachy and she didn’t attend church too often. However, the relationship that she had with God when no one was looking was a different story altogether. One time, I went to visit her and my grandfather at their apartment in Peekskill, NY. When I walked in, Gram was sitting in her chair in the corner of the room. She had her eyes closed and her hand was resting on a stack of papers. I assumed that she was sleeping. But when she heard me, she opened her eyes quickly and said, “I’m almost done. Just a minute.” Huh? Almost done with what? Napping? A few moments later, she opened her eyes and said, “Okay. I’m finished.” I asked what she was “finished” with and she opened her hand to show me her stack of papers. I’m finished praying. “Praying? Praying for whom? Here? In the middle of the day?” At this point in my life, I was a “pray the same prayers before bed” kinda girl. I’m not sure why, but the realization that Gram was praying for people mid-day was strange to me. As it turns out, Gram prayed for people everyday—lots of people, by name—maybe even some of you reading this right now! She had a daily routine and it included saying her prayers. She was faithful about that and it made an impression on me that day. It also made me feel good because in my heart I was sure that I was included in her daily chats with God. J

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” When I think of this Scripture, I think of someone’s “purpose” as being something that is big and grand, like someone’s job or their life’s conquest or their big accomplishments. Thinking back on Gram’s life, I think that her purpose may have been a bit less glamorous, but no less purposeful or powerful than anyone else’s. Her purpose was carried out in the way that she lived. She showed us by her life that we can do anything by trusting in God. Her life proved to us that He worked all things out for good—no matter how difficult or burdensome they seemed. I for one am grateful to her for fulfilling that purpose, whether she knew she was doing it or not. To see the life of a lonely, poor, handicapped immigrant transformed into one that was filled with laughter, adventure, family, friends, and an abundance of love is quite inspirational. And then to know that she lived that life believing and trusting that “God would provide” and time and time again, He did? Well, that’s enough proof for me to want the same for my life. Thanks for your example, Gram…

Lord, it’s your deal. I trust you and I’m all in.IMG_1257

To everything…turn, turn, turn

I remember the first time I realized that the song, “Higher Ground,” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers was actually a remake of a song that was originally written and sung by Stevie Wonder. My thoughts were, No way! Stevie Wonder did this first?! I thought this was a Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song!

My thoughts were quite similar several years ago when I came across this little diddy… “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh…a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NIV) My thoughts were, No way! This is in the Bible?! I thought this was The Byrds’ song… “To everything—turn, turn, turn. There is a season- turn, turn, turn. And a time to every purpose under heaven… Sometimes we are just more familiar with the remake than we are with the original and this was definitely one of those eye-opening situations for me.

Either way, the message from the Byrds song and the one from its Biblical original is the same: There is a time for everything. The seasons of our lives come and go. We all have that in common—the passage of time. It is one of those rare unifying elements that all of creation experiences. We cannot stop it, slow it down, speed it up, or avoid it. We can usually choose how we utilize it and decide how we are going to spend our precious but fleeting days, hours, minutes, seconds. We hate to waste it, but at the same time; we often make choices that do just that.

The season we are currently in, a.k.a. “the holidays,” gets to be the craziest time of the year. But does it have to be? Do we really have to shop for matching outfits to get professional photos done so we can send 500 Christmas pictures to everyone we’ve ever met? Does our house need to be more decorated with lights than Cinderella’s castle at Disney World? Will my son really love that 6-foot crane that he requested from Santa once January rolls around—how about once I’ve finished paying it off from the credit card bill in the Spring?

I know, I know, I’m starting to sound like a Scrooge. Bah humbug, right? But seriously, what is it all about? We put so much pressure on ourselves to have everything just right—the perfect decorations, the perfect meal, the perfect presents, etc. etc. It is just too much and we are NOT perfect! We need to give ourselves a break!

I grew up in an Italian family. On Christmas Eve, we would gather together and eat the seafood meal of a lifetime. The tradition is that we should have at least seven different fishes represented, and of course, there was always pasta as well. I believe the seven-fish rule represents the seven hills of Rome. I’m not even certain if that’s the reason we had to have seven—hence my point—why? It becomes a little crazy. I think of all the years that I would go through the shopping list and do the count off: 1) shrimp scampi, 2) mussels (to go with the linguine), 3) clams oreganata, 4) scallops wrapped in bacon, 5) baccala (cod salad), 6) stuffed flounder and 7) ? . What should we have for number 7? Oh no! Christmas Eve is ruined! We don’t have a 7th fish! Let’s fry some shrimp; that’s a different dish than shrimp scampi. But would that qualify as the 7th fish?! Um, technically, the flounder and the cod are the only “fish” on the entire list; so I guess we were actually five short of our seven fishes anyway. Haha!

Anyway, you get what I am trying to say. Traditions are wonderful. Presents are fantastic. The decorations look beautiful. We just get so wrapped up (excuse the pun!) in all the season’s “must-haves” that we forget about the purpose of it all. It wasn’t until I spent my first post-divorce Christmas Eve at home, by myself, that I realized how unimportant all of those previous “must-haves” really were.

A few lines down from the Scripture that I quoted earlier it says, “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toils—this is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-14 NIV)

Consequently, I don’t think Jesus’s birth was put on our calendars for the purpose of stressing us out!  Like the Scripture says: eat, drink, and be merry; but you can’t do that if you are so stuck on the things that might be lacking from your holiday.

So I invite you to join me in forgiving ourselves this season. We may not have the best Christmas card photo (or we may not get to send cards out at all, sorry!); we may eat off paper plates instead of fine china; we may not be able to afford everything off of the wish list; and we may not even have all seven fishes on Christmas Eve, but we do have each other.  Let’s choose to spend our time wisely and decide which “must-haves” are most important. As you already know, our time is limited…turn, turn, turn.

 

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Getting out of the Abyss

Have you ever spent any time in the abyss? If you have, then you know the place that I’m referring to…the one that makes you feel like the weight of the world is so overwhelming that you just don’t want to experience another day. The cloak of darkness in this place strangles out any hope or joy. You can’t possibly see a reason for anything and want nothing more than to crawl up into a little ball under the covers so that you can be left alone…forever.

I recently spent some time there and it was just horrific. When I step back and think of each event that led up to my residency there—and every new occurrence that kept me there another day longer—none of it is really earth shattering or life altering. Nobody died or was diagnosed with a terminal illness; I wasn’t the victim of an attack or even the subject of ridicule. Neither of my children had anything major happen to them. So why was I feeling so down? Sometimes when a lot of troubles happen within a short time frame, it just feels like it is all too much to bear; and because of all of it, I spiraled into my first ever depressive state.

It started about a month ago; I tore a ligament in my foot. Prior to that, I was in pain from plantar fasciitis and a heel spur, but the pain level tripled after the tear and I haven’t had much relief since then. That pain coupled with a schedule that is non-stop eventually produced an unpleasant person…and in some ways, an unrecognizable version of myself.

Three weeks ago, I drove to Target on a Sunday afternoon. It was just starting to get dark and the weather was crummy—humid and drizzling. I really didn’t feel like going to the store, but I was out of just about everything and needed to just do it. As I pulled up to the stop sign, I spotted an open parking spot near the entrance, just around the corner from where I sat. What a relief that I wouldn’t have to walk too far to get in the store. My foot has slowed me down considerably and with every step I take, my mind says, Ouch, step, ouch, step, ouch… My weekly Sunday chore turned into a monumental task filled with pain and I was dreading it. As I turned the corner to pull into the parking spot, I stopped because there was a woman driving an SUV a few feet away. She was facing me head on and her turn signal was blinking. In driving language, that was her way of claiming the empty spot. I got the “Don’t you dare; I got here first glare,” as well. Ordinarily, I would’ve kept on driving past the space. I’m very respectful of parking lot etiquette. I didn’t have my blinker on so I must not have seen it first. The unwritten rule is that she had the signal; therefore, she gets the spot. No big deal. There’s bound to be another one nearby.

BUT, that day was different. On that day, I was in a self-absorbed pit and my only concerns were my own needs. I quickly turned my wheel without thinking it through and pulled into the space as if I had not seen her. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her throw her hands up, obviously aggravated at me, and she backed up to the next nearest parking spot. I sat in my car for a moment and in my mind I had to justify what I had just done. With the way I am moving and feeling, I should have a temporary handicapped tag, I thought. I’m sure once she sees me hobbling to the store, she’ll realize why I did what I did. And then fear washed over me because I knew what I did was wrong. Maybe she’s going to go psycho on me when I get out of the car. What if she waits till I go in and vandalizes my car? And then, the self-loathing, You’d deserve it. I can’t believe you just did that! Who do you think you are? So now you are the type of person who takes people’s parking spots? Wow.

I didn’t see her pass by my car, but figured by that point she must’ve gone into the store. I limped my way around Target and bought only what I absolutely needed. I really wanted to get out of there as fast as possible so that I could go home and ice my foot. I paid for my stuff and went to my car. I closed my trunk; backed out of my spot, and guess who was backing out of her spot at precisely the same time? Once again, we were stopped face to face. This time, as she started to drive past me, I motioned for her to open her window. The expression on her face killed me. I was a jerk and we both knew it. I started to cry. I apologized profusely for taking her spot. I told her that I was mortified that I did something like that. I explained that I was in so much pain and used it to try to justify my actions since that was the only thing that I could think about in the moment. I felt so badly and apologized again and again. She said that it was okay again and again, but she confessed that she too was suffering with a migraine. She did not want to leave the house but just had to get a few necessities. Sound familiar? Without saying too much, it was obvious that she was right there with me in the pit.

Instead of reassessing my situation and putting a halt to it right then and there, I drove off and I sobbed. I was so embarrassed and at the same time I felt so sorry for her. Nobody could see her pain either and I only exacerbated her situation by putting myself ahead of her. How low can you go? Before long I sank deeper into my despair.

The next day rolled around and I got to work. I hobbled my way in the door and walked down the hall on the way to my room. Step, ouch, step, ouch, step… Just as I got to my door handle, I heard a voice behind me, “Good morning, ToniAnn.” I turned. “Good morning,” I replied. “I thought you were going to hold the door open for me,” my co-worker said as she struggled to get her key out of the door. And with that, my heart sank. You did it again. Selfish much? The apology and explanation that I gave to her was similar to the one I stated the night before. However, this time, I was concerned about what was happening to me. Who was this person who didn’t look out for other people? What was happening to me?

Over the next few days one thing after the other transpired: car troubles on three separate days and the cost grew with each problem; my birthday was a bust for various reasons; there were doctor’s appointments; church obligations; family stressors; work situations; smoke detectors going off in the middle of the night (of course!); and to top it all off, my refrigerator died. Every time I thought things couldn’t possibly get worse, they did. I didn’t have the money, the time, the resources, or the strength to deal with it anymore. I was done.

Now those of you who know how faithful I am must be thinking, What about God? Were you praying? Were you reading your Bible? Were you checking off the list of what “good” Christians do in times of crisis? In short, my answers to those questions are Yup. Yeah. And Yes. But sometimes, and thankfully these are rare times, when you’re at your lowest of lows, you can’t see the Light no matter what you do. So how did I break out?

Well, I have an amazing group of girlfriends from high school. The eight of us communicate via group texts several times a day, just about every day and we’ve been doing this for years. Despite our distance both in miles and between visits, we always know what is going on in each other’s lives. I sent them a text one day during my trial pleading for their prayers. I explained how I was feeling and they offered their support and love, but one of their texts changed everything for me.

My sweet friend, Diane is a school counselor. In addition to her always uplifting presence, she is gifted in her choice of words when it comes to matters of advice. Diane said that she recently had a student who referred to the dark place in her life as her own personal “abyss.” Diane told the girl, that it is okay to go to the abyss once in awhile. “But be careful,” she said. “You don’t want to stay there for too long.” She then told me that whenever I was ready to leave my abyss that she would be there, ready to fish me out.

As I thought of that imagery, it got to me. With every small thing that occurred, I dug my feet in deeper and stayed in the abyss longer…and longer. Diane’s words echoed in my head, “You don’t want to stay there for too long.” It was so true. The longer that I stayed there, the more difficult it would be for me to get out.

Over the same week that all of the tough stuff was happening, there was a lot of good stuff happening too: my Bible study group gathered around me and prayed that I would feel better; my friends took turns bringing me meals so that I wouldn’t have to spend more time on my foot; my co-workers helped me out so that I wouldn’t have to walk back and forth in my building to get my students; I received a retroactive paycheck that paid for the majority of my car problems; my mother called me daily to check on me to provide assistance and to help me be somewhat reasonable in my thinking; my son didn’t require surgery for an injury that we thought would surely result in him going under the knife; and my doctor decided that I wouldn’t require surgery either, at least for now. I received texts, and calls, and emails, checking on me, asking if I needed help, and there were people praying for me over and over again.

During the toughest points in this trial, I was also praying and crying out to God. I was expecting that He would change things. I was assuming that He would help me. I thought that if He was helping me that I would see a difference—that the troubles would cease instantly. When they didn’t, I got discouraged. But what I didn’t recognize was that He WAS there. He was helping me. He was answering my prayers. He was putting my name on my friends’ hearts so that they would reach out to me. He was putting people and gifts in my path to lighten my load. I was just so blinded by the darkness that I CHOSE to dismiss the Light. Despite all the ropes that were being offered to me, I did not hold on to any of them.  I always tell my son, every day we have a choice to focus on the good stuff or focus on the bad stuff. Usually, I look for the silver linings, but I couldn’t see them because I was too focused on the bad stuff.

So when my friend brought me a meal, instead of gratefully inviting her in or offering her a drink, I barely picked my head up from under the pillow to thank her. On the day that the check arrived in my bank account, the same day that I got the bill for my car, instead of being elated that I wouldn’t have to go into debt over the expense, I was aggravated that I had to spend the money on my car. Although my fridge was able to be fixed and I didn’t need to get a new one, I was sickened by the amount of food that I had to throw out. (Even though a bunch of it was expired and my fridge needed a good clean out!) And when my mother’s precious words of encouragement fell on deaf ears, it was obvious that I had hit rock bottom. I couldn’t see the good in any of my situations. I couldn’t see God. I had obviously stayed in the abyss for way too long and I was FINALLY ready to be “fished out.”

I texted Diane the next morning and thanked her for helping me to see. I grabbed onto my life line. I thanked God for the precious people that He chose to surround me with. I also thanked Him for this whole experience because as difficult as it was, it has brought me so much awareness. It is truly amazing how a person’s mindset can alter their behavior. I can assure you, that I will NEVER steal a person’s parking space again! And if you are one of my co-workers, now you understand why I’ve been holding doors open behind me and I’m willing to wait for you to come down the hall—no matter how long it takes. Most importantly, I plan to be more cognizant of those who live in pain. My heart goes out to them and I will be watching just in case anyone needs me to send down the ropes.

I was going to hold off on sharing this story because I felt like it was too soon after all of these events to talk about it, but then I decided it might be best to share it this week due to it being Thanksgiving. This week people will be traveling here and there to be with family and friends to celebrate the holiday. Of those people, there will be some who are hurting—physically or mentally, or both. Keep in mind that their pain can be physical, but not necessarily visible, like the woman at Target. Either way, let’s try to be mindful of our family and friends who are suffering in silence. Maybe they don’t like to complain, or maybe they complain every chance that they get! Oh boy! Regardless of how much they voice it, if you know that they’ve had a recent illness or injury or chronic ailment, please give them a little extra help, attention, and love this week. I’m certain that they would appreciate it—sometimes way more than they would ever admit it.

This post also serves as a reminder about those who spend the holidays depressed and/or alone. Think about the people in your life. What about your co-workers? Are any of them going home to an empty house? How about your neighbors? Where are they going for Thanksgiving? Can you fit one more at your table? If so, why not extend an invite or stop by for a quick visit? If they are homebound, maybe a plate of leftovers would be well received.

Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.”

I am a work in progress. This verse speaks to the kind of person that I strive to be.

If this episode has taught me anything, it is that you just never know who is praying for God to send them someone to help them get out of their own personal abyss. Maybe the person that God has chosen to fish that person out is YOU.

Have a happy, safe, and blessed Thanksgiving!

How do you maintain your faith when so much bad happens?

After yesterday’s terrorist attack in France, a dear friend from high school, Jeff Pearlman, sent me a Facebook message:

How do you maintain your faith when so much bad happens? Just curious–nothing to read into.

Jeff recently wrote a piece on his blog (http://www.jeffpearlman.com/blog/) called Death and Paris. I read that first, and then I responded with this…

Hello, my friend. I had to drink a cup of coffee before sitting down to write a response to you this morning. I’m afraid you’re not going to like my answer though….I just do. My belief in God is so rock solid that it is like a check box on a scantron form. Do you believe in God/Jesus/Holy Spirit? Yes or No? I fill in the “Yes” bubble. The fact that bad things happen in this world has no effect on my faith. Just like if my whole body was burned in a fire, I wouldn’t have to think about whether or not to bubble in “White” as the color of my skin. It just is.

Everybody wants somebody to blame. Some blame Muslims, because hey, let’s group in an entire religion of millions of people and make them pay for the sadistic acts of a handful of them. This method doesn’t float with me. I recently learned that I am the great-granddaughter of a Nazi! Great-grandpa disowned his son (my grandfather) because he decided to join the US Army so that he could fight with the Americans against the Germans in WWII. If the “blame the Muslims” theory is right, then I guess I’d be equally guilty as the Nazis for the holocaust just because I have a German ancestor that I never even met. Not!

Then there are those who blame Christians and Jews because they are so pushy with their doctrine and everything about “them” is conceited and arrogant. Even you yourself said “I can’t stomach people trusting ancient religious texts over logic and scientific fact.” (Ouch, by the way!) You and I both know there is as much scientific/historical fact to prove the veracity of those religious texts as there isn’t. No one way is better than the other. You choose to believe that it is illogical and I choose to believe that it is completely logical. So once again, I, as a Christian, should take the blame for the heinous acts of these sick individuals just because I don’t believe what they believe? I don’t think so.

…and then there’s God. Let’s blame Him since He’s the “cause” of all this. People are killing other people because of Him so how can He not take the blame? Also, He is the Almighty Creator so He has the power to stop this in an instant, so isn’t that a good reason to point the finger at Him as well? The challenge in defending God to someone who does not have faith is that it is extremely difficult to prove why bad things happen in a fallen world when the person(s) I am trying to explain it to are person(s) who don’t even believe that He exists! So how could they possibly understand why I, as a Christian, do not blame my Father for the evil that exists in the world? BUT, I guess that is a bit of a cop out and it allows me to avoid your question. (Ahhhh, peace from Pearlman. Lol!) BUT, I’m not going to leave it at that. In order to answer your question though, I’m going to have to make some presumptions.

I will presume that the person(s) that I am talking to has a bit of faith…that they believe that God exists and that’s it. They don’t have to be a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim, just a believer in God (someone who trusts in one of those ancient religious texts that you can’t stomach). IF said person(s) have that belief and that belief alone, then they would also acknowledge that God is the Creator. He created plants, animals, the world, people, etc. That being said, just as in the above examples, why should a parent be blamed for the heinous choices of His children? He is no more to blame for their choices than I am for my great-grandfather’s choice to be a Nazi. Yes, He created the people who are committing the atrocities, but He is not the one doing it.

I know what you are going to say, but if He’s “God” then He could stop it from happening…and He doesn’t. So why would you choose to believe in a Creator like that?

I cannot speak for anyone but myself. I don’t claim to have all the answers—I definitely do not! I do not tell anyone that they should or shouldn’t believe in God and I don’t hate, loathe, or even dislike people who don’t agree with what I believe. My belief is that GOD IS LOVE and I wholeheartedly believe that love is the common bond among all of His creation. (Just last week I created a blog and I plan to write about this stuff. Yikes! God help me. My head hurts already just responding to you!) As difficult as it may be to have faith and see His love in a time such as this; it is there. There are those who choose to focus on and believe in the anger, hate, revenge, blame, and resentment, but I choose love. Love is in the response of those who aided the people injured in the terrorist attacks. Love is in the outpouring of affection and messages and prayers and posts and pictures by those of us who live thousands of miles away. Love is in the hearts and actions of the people in Paris and in all of France who are at this moment holding their families tighter and forgiving past hurts and recognizing that our time here is limited. Love is in acknowledging the commonalities among us as humans rather than focusing on the dividers of ethnicity, religion, politics, and race.

And in the end, if love is to win, then we have to believe in it.

Write for Him

Today is my 43rd birthday. I thought that by the time a person is a few years past the 40-year mark that they have their lives pretty much mapped out. Go to College. Get a job. Get married. Check. Check. Check. Get a Master’s Degree. Have a child. Quit your job to be a stay-at-home mom. Check. Check. Check. Have a 2nd child. Take a few family vacations and an anniversary trip here and there. Check. Check. Check.

But then, somewhere around my milestone birthday, the map took a few different turns…Get divorced? Oh. Check, I guess. Find a decent-paying job? Um, hmmm. Not really. How about, Find a job that makes a lot less than you were making before? Sadly, that’s more like it. Check. Take care of a house and two children as a full-time working single mom? Wait, say wha? How am I supposed to do this? Other than the obvious answer: with child support; there comes a time when one must accept that she just can’t do it all alone…and then, there was God.

To say that He’s been there for me throughout the ups and downs over the past few years would be a gross understatement. When I thought I had no one, I learned that I had strength through Him.

However, for the past 20 days or so, God has been silent—that is, until yesterday, when He said, “Write for me.” I generally hear Him fairly frequently while I’m reading my Bible or praying. (No, it’s not an audible voice.) I’ll write more about that another time, but for today, just know, that I am not used to His silence. It came about after a period of anger on my part. You see, I wrote something…a Bible study actually. I wrote a Bible study for people who are going through divorce. It’s called Joy Cometh. It took me almost two years to write the book. I wrote it because I felt like God “called” me to do it. (I don’t like when people say they are “called” to do something. It sounds so cliché and almost elitist. Like, “I was called; were you ever called?” Yuck! I hate the arrogant feel of that!) Anyway, let’s just say I did this writing project for God and for people who are hurting through their divorces. After finishing it, I went to a conference for Christian writers. I met with publishers and pitched my book. I had some promising feedback. I was told to seek letters of endorsement from megachurch pastors, Christian counselors, and any big names in Christian publishing. The publisher reasoned that since I didn’t have an established platform or previously published material in this genre that I wouldn’t be able to sell my book. Basically I was told that because I am a nobody, the book wouldn’t be worth their investment. So, I set out to get these endorsement letters.

I wrote to various people and emailed them the book—friends and strangers alike—requesting that they read through Joy Cometh and possibly write letters supporting its worth in the marketplace. Surprisingly, there were several people that came through for me. A few months have passed and I am still trying to get letters. However, a few weeks ago, out of the blue, I received an email from the publisher that I met with at the conference and she said that she wasn’t interested in my book. But, I didn’t even finish collecting the letters of endorsement! And then, the really upsetting part happened… I got the sense that the book accomplished what it was supposed to do for now. It is not going to be published; or at least not for awhile. Huh?

During a time of prayer, I felt so strongly in my heart that God used the Bible Study to reach out to one of His lost sheep. The person who needed to see it received it through my endorsement letter quest and she has since read it. Whether or not God got through to the person, I do not know. But I feel fairly certain that I spent two years of my life writing a book so that ONE particular person could read it and possibly feel moved by it. You’d think that as a fairly good Christian woman that I would be honored by such an event. After all, the Bible talks of one lost sheep being more important than a whole flock. (Luke 15:1-7; Matthew 18:12-14)

Seriously though, I’m human. Let’s just say I got upset. Okay, so maybe “upset” isn’t strong enough of a word. To be honest, I got mad–really really mad! How is this possible? I thought this thing was going to be published and reach a lot of divorced people. I thought I’d be able to quit my job and live off the royalties. I thought I’d be flying around doing speaking engagements (which I really didn’t want to do, but I would if necessary to promote the book). I thought. I thought. I thought. Well guess what? I thought wrong! Somewhere along the line I got caught up in the worldly thinking about what I originally set out to do. I started thinking about me and what I would get out of this and that is where I failed. Who am I to think that I know what is best for this book? If I truly wrote it “for Him” then that should be enough. I wrote it. I was obedient to His call. I did what I was supposed to do. Period.

Sometimes that’s how it is when you decide to live a Christ-minded life. His ways are not always our ways. At times we feel discouraged because we can’t see the big picture. If I really think about the fact that He set this plan in motion two years ago just to reach out to one person, it is really pretty incredible; and that person must be really special in the eyes of the Lord (just as we all are). Though I can’t see the entire plan for this book, for that individual, or for me, I just have to trust Him and have faith in His goodness.

So yesterday, when He spoke to me after so many days without a word, He tells me that I need to “write for Him.” Despite my disappointment regarding Joy Cometh, I know in the end His plan will be the best one. He’s proved that to me time and time again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not giving up on my hopes for this Bible Study to be published—I’m just going to leave the details of it all up to God. In the meantime, I know what I have to do… Write. For Him.

Welcome to my blog. Day 1. Happy Birthday to Me!