Christianity, Family, Religion

Finding A Spiritual Home

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I mentioned in another post that my husband and I have finally found a place of worship that we feel comfortable calling home. We’re pretty excited about having found this unique little gathering of believers and I wanted to share some of the journey that brought us here.

After getting married in 2008, we both felt that we wanted to be more disciplined in attending some sort of worship service regularly. At first we were attending a church where the people were great, but the church itself was entirely too big and we felt that the leadership was always trying to “sell” us something – books, CDs, videos, etc. We wanted something that felt more genuine and so we kept searching. We’d tried a few different places, but became more and more disillusioned and disconnected with each new place. For me, a huge part of the problem was that I kept feeling as though I was “going” to church, and not “being” the church. Outside of the Sunday praise, worship, and sermon ritual – there was nothing authentic throughout the rest of the week to help connect and sustain us spiritually.

Another issue for me was the fact that most churches we visited felt more like Christian self-help groups. All of the messages were centered on a specific topic, for instance – how to build good relationships in the workplace – and Bible verses that supported the pastor’s view of that topic were discussed. Although it is important to gain wisdom about different aspects of life, I wanted to be a part of a church where the Bible was read, taught, and discussed as it is – not manipulated and taken out of context in order to fit a particular pastor’s views.

When my husband and I found out we would be moving to another part of the U.S, one of the things that really excited us was the idea that we might be able to find something out here that we had not found in our 6 year search of our home state. I didn’t want to feel like I was “shopping” for a church, but at the same time I knew that there were certain things we needed in a spiritual home. We created a short list of things that we felt were important for us in a church.

We wanted to be in a place where we could truly learn the Bible, in all of its confusing, seemingly contradictory, messy glory. I quickly lose interest in places where all the hard verses are ignored and all the pleasant verses are cherry picked to prove a point. I enjoy that the place we’ve been visiting spends time studying and dissecting entire blocks of scripture. This makes it harder to take a particular reading out of context. Instead of using scripture to support whatever topic is on the speaker’s mind, the topics arise from these blocks of scripture being studied.

We wanted to be in a place small enough for there to be genuine community, but big enough for us to find ways to get involved. I don’t know about anyone else, but for us, going to church is always just a Sunday thing. We go on Sunday and the rest of the week we’re on our own! To that end, we needed to find a place that embraced the idea that we (believers in Christ) are an organic, living church – and that being the church doesn’t end on Sunday afternoon when service lets out. So far, I have met people at this place who have immediately gotten involved in our lives. And they didn’t get involved in that creepy, cultish sort of way. They are just intentional about not leaving us out as they live their lives and develop on their own spiritual journeys. More importantly, my husband and I have been able to seamlessly get involved as if we had been there all along.

We wanted to be in a place that does not discourage ritual and/or the historical traditions of the church, but is not dogmatic about it either. I really love how the Catholic and Orthodox churches allow for perpetual spirituality because their sense of community and their traditions are built into the way they live. Although we highly respect those groups (and sometimes borrow from some of their practices!), we have not felt led to join any particular denomination. At the same time, I have grown weary of those who teach that ritual is inherently wrong or idolatrous. I like that this place we’ve been visiting recognizes the beauty of the historical church traditions and rhythms of life, without forcing those traditions on anyone.

We wanted to be in a place that is diverse in many ways. We wanted a place that has a mixture of ethnicity, age, physical/mental ability, and socioeconomic status. For the most part, we’ve found that here. What is lacking in racial diversity is made up for in the diversity of age, ability, and tax bracket. And that’s not to say that there is no racial diversity – just not a whole lot.

I guess the biggest factor in our decision to join with this particular group of believers is that we have felt God’s gentle nudge in this direction. It may not be where He has us forever, but we definitely think that this is where we are supposed to be for now.

We’re excited to see where this path leads!

What about you? How did you find your spiritual home?

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Christianity, News and Current events, Religion

How Can You Believe the Bible, When [insert objection]?

Last week, a friend of mine posted a link to an article that was written to show that Christians who say they take the Bible literally on the issue of same-sex marriage do not (and cannot) even follow all of the Bible’s rules concerning hetero-marriage. The article had a list of Biblical instructions concerning the hierarchy of husbands over wives, the practice of polygamy, and what to do in case of a rape. She followed up on the article by asking a few genuine questions for her Christian friends to answer. I thought this was an interesting topic, but I didn’t want to answer on her newsfeed because (1) it would be too long, and (2) although my friend might be genuine in her questioning, I’m sure there would be others who would read my comments and only be looking to pick a fight. I thought that perhaps it would be better to answer these questions in blog form. It is important to note, though, that there is a lot of diversity within the Christian faith. Each Christian has his or her own view on issues of Biblical interpretation, doctrine, and the spectrum of how literally they follow the Bible. In my opinion, it doesn’t make a person any less of a Christian simply because they have a different view of the Bible than I do, but I want to be clear that my answers to these questions are my own. Christians (and non Christians) with different views are welcome to chime in on the comments section – or even answer these questions for themselves in their own blog posts! It would be neat to see the diversity of responses. So, without wasting any more of your time…

What do you do when you read something in the Bible that you clearly don’t believe?”

I’ll be the first to admit that there are plenty of things in the Bible that seem pretty crazy. I’ll also admit that, to my extreme disappointment, when I have asked other Christians about questionable Biblical passages – they became defensive and have either labeled me as someone who didn’t really have faith, or have uncomfortably tried to gloss over my questions with shallow “pat on the back” answers that really held no weight. This is a huge problem that Christianity seems to have – we don’t like to face the hard stuff. We want to pick all the nice, happy scriptures and focus on those without really looking at the whole picture. When we do this, we are not only doing ourselves a disservice but we are also keeping others from understanding who we are and what we believe. I have learned, unfortunately, not to ask the hard questions to other Christians because I never know how they will respond. This is not a good thing, and this is something that I hope will change, but it is where I am right now.

In my personal study time, however, I enjoy delving deep into the tough stuff. Here are a few things that I look at when I face a passage of scripture that seems brutish, cruel, and/or unlike the God that I have come to know and believe in.

I look at historical context – what was happening at the time? What were the normal customs of the people I am reading about and the people around them? We have to try, as much as possible, to read the Bible through the perspective of the people about whom we are reading. We can’t read it with our 21st century American views and expect to come away with a full understanding of what was going on. I look at original meanings of words – the Bible was written in a few different languages, and I’m sure that there are puns, popular metaphors of that time period, and other words that have just gotten lost in translation over the years. There are probably words that they had in that time, that didn’t exist anymore when the Bible was first translated into English. Some Bibles have footnotes that tell you where a word used might have actually replaced another word or meant something different at the time of the original writing. Those are important clues to look at, as well. I ask myself whether the outcome of a passage is something that God wanted to happen, or something that happened because of the people involved. There is a huge difference. One of the scriptures listed in the article is about when Abraham slept with his wife’s servant-girl, Haggar, in order to produce an heir to his family line. The article incorrectly assumes that the Bible condones rape as a way to ensure your lineage. In actuality, God never told Abraham to sleep with or rape Haggar. Abraham and Sarah devised this plan on their own, independently of God. When reading the Bible, we have to remember that most of the Bible’s stories are stories of people who did not believe in or obey God. Most of the Bible’s stories are about people who take matters into their own hands and disregard God’s instructions. That doesn’t mean the Bible condones a certain thing, but the Bible just tells us what happened. Finally, if I find something questionable and it is a direct result of God’s instructions, I ask God about it and I continue to study the issue until I get an answer. Descartes talks about the need to doubt everything you know in order to know anything with any certainty. This has proven true in my faith journey. I think it is okay to respectfully challenge God. In fact, I think it is essential. How else are we supposed to get to know Him? I don’t want to walk away simply because I come up against something difficult. I want to understand it. I want to understand God to the best of my ability. And there are plenty of things in the Bible that I am still working toward understanding.

“How do you reconcile following the Bible as a whole?”

I think a lot of people see the Bible as simply a rulebook and we have to read it and do what it says. The Bible is more than that. It’s really the very (very) long story – spanning thousands of years and various cultures – of God’s interactions with flawed people. The Bible often tells what actually happened, and not what should have happened. Many of the Bible’s heroes are really just reformed criminals. Moses, David, and Paul were all murderers. Does that mean God wants me to go out and murder people, or is He just showing me that He can change lives? The Bible also has poetry, symbolism, metaphors, letters, and allegory. When I say that I follow the Bible as a whole, what I mean is that I believe its historical accounts are true. I mean that I have studied the history of and the laws created for the Israelites, and have studied how Jesus fulfilled those laws. I mean that I have sought to understand the hidden meanings of the Bible’s poetry, symbols, and parables. I mean that I have studied how Jesus is foreshadowed in the Old Testament and revealed in the New. I mean that I have read the letters written to the various groups of new Christians and learned about how the early church developed. I mean that I have read the stories of people who disobeyed God, and I have tried not to follow in their footsteps. Yes, there are certain commands in the Bible that I, if I say I believe, should apply to my life. However, following the Bible “as a whole” is really less about following rules and more of an attempt to understand this story of redemption that God is writing.

“Do you just not follow the parts that don’t work in society anymore, and then follow the parts that mean something to you?” 

To answer this question, I need to go over some of the different parts of the Bible. If we’re looking at what is considered the “Old Testament,” we are talking about three parts. The first five books of the Old Testament are what make the Torah – or the law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). These laws were meant for Israelites to follow, most of them were for ceremonial purposes. The laws were there to form a covenant between God and the people through whom He chose to reveal Himself. Some of these laws were only for priests, some of these laws were only for men, some of these laws were only for women – so not even the entire people-group for whom they were written could follow them all. And yes, some of these laws are weird and/or cruel! Even the people to whom they were handed down did not always understand them – but they sought to! Many of the Torah’s laws are expounded on, debated, and discussed at length in the Talmud – an extrabiblical source that helps Jews to make sense of Torah’s rules. Likewise, just because I don’t have a cultural or religious obligation to follow these rules – or because I don’t always understand them – doesn’t mean that I should disregard them. Many of these laws had symbolic meaning that looked forward to the coming of a Jewish Messiah – who I believe to be Jesus Christ. I personally do not believe that one can fully understand the New Testament without an understanding of the Torah, similarly, I don’t believe that the big picture of the Torah can be seen without an understanding of the New Testament. Christians who emphasize too much of one over the other – in my opinion – are missing out. After the Torah, you have the Nevi’im – or the prophets. This is the part of the Old Testament that has all of the fascinating stories and carries a lot of Jewish history (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc). These are mostly stories of the people’s disobedience to God and the resulting consequences and warnings that God gave. In these books are people from whose experiences we can learn, in order to make wise decisions in our own lives. These books also give us good background and historical context. The other part of the Old Testament would be the Ketuvim – or the writings. This is what I would consider the “wisdom” parts of the Old Testament – Proverbs, Psalms, Job, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations – and others. These books give advice, philosophical ideas, and insights into the meaning of abstract concepts like life, love, faith, and hardship. Many of them can be read alongside some of the stories of the Bible, because they were written simultaneously. For example, you may read in the book of 1 Kings a story about an incident that happened in King David’s life, and at the same time you can read one of the Psalms that King David wrote while that incident was happening. After the Old Testament, you get into the New Testament. The New Testament is also split up into different sections. You have the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) which are all firsthand accounts of Jesus’ life, written by people who knew Jesus. They tell mostly the same stories but from different perspectives. Then you have historical accounts of how the Christian Church began to form (the book of Acts). Then, you’ve got all of these letters – many written by Paul, some by other authors – that were written to instruct the early church on doctrine and conduct (books like Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, the list goes on). Finally you have the book of Revelations, which is a book written by John after he was exiled for his faith to the Island of Patmos. The book of Revelations is the written record of visions that John had while he was on Patmos. In my opinion, the Bible is not meant to be followed as much as it is to be studied, learned, and absorbed. Although you may hear many Christians refer to the Bible as a “manual for life,” most of it contains stories and history, not rules. So, to finally get to an answer to the question, it’s not about following only what works in society or cherry-picking the portions of the Bible that you like, it’s about understanding the whole picture of a story that the Bible is trying to tell – and then making a decision about how you will respond to that story.

“Why [does] the Bible mean so much to people when they disagree with many parts of it?”

I can’t tell you why the Bible means so much to other people – but I can tell you why it means a lot to me. I like that it has real people who make real mistakes and are given second chances. Sometimes, when we hear of “holy” men and women, all we hear about is how perfect they are and how wonderful everything they did was. That’s not real life. No one’s perfect. It’s the reason why people don’t like the Duggars (although I do like them) – they seem too perfect and so it reeks of fake. I like that King David slept with another man’s wife, had that man killed, and then God changed his heart and turned him into a better person. I like that Jonah tried to run away from God, but ultimately ended up doing what God had originally instructed. I like that Thomas doubted Jesus, even after knowing him personally. I like that Peter denied Jesus, even after he’d been best buddies with Jesus for a few years. The Bible doesn’t sugarcoat. It doesn’t make people seem to be anything that they’re not. It doesn’t hide dirty laundry. It lays everything out there for us to see. I also like that the Bible has people who make real mistakes and don’t get second chances. Because, that’s life sometimes, too. Sometimes we screw something up and that’s it. There is no second chance. That doesn’t mean that we can’t find forgiveness or that God won’t help us, but sometimes the consequences of what we do are permanent. I like that I can read the Bible over and over and still find new things to learn and ponder. It’s like a bag that you can keep pulling things out of. I have been reading the Bible for all of my life and there are still things about it that I am discovering. It doesn’t get boring. It keeps me interested. I like that it leaves me with questions. I enjoy being intellectually and philosophically challenged. I don’t like to read something and just take it at face value. There are times when you really have to dig deep to figure out how to reconcile what the Bible says with what the present culture is telling you to believe. There are times when you have to look at science and look at the Bible and figure out how and if the two fit together. That’s good for me. It keeps me from being one-sided and helps me learn to look at things from a variety of different angles. I don’t want to be told what to believe or what to think, I want to discover what I believe and what I think. Studying the Bible really helps to challenge me in that discovery process. I love that the Bible’s wisdom has kept me from making mistakes. There have been times when I was about to do something, remembered what the Bible said about it, didn’t do it, and it literally saved the day. On the flip side, there are times where I’ve ignored the Bible’s advice and then felt stupid for what I’d gotten myself into. Finally, I love that the Bible has helped me to get to know God. God and I are friends. God is not some abstract concept that I struggle to understand, He is someone that I know. For me, the Bible has played a huge part in getting to know Him.

I know this was long.

And I don’t know whether or not this post was at all helpful, but – to my friend who asked these questions – thanks for bringing up such a neat topic that caused so many of your Christian friends to really think about what they believe. We need that in the Christian world, more than you know.

 

 

 

 

Christianity, General, Religion

Purim Sameach!

One of the most entertaining aspects of my studies on various faith groups is learning about all of the different traditions and holidays that are part of each faith culture. When I was eleven or twelve, I used to go to the religion section of the library to look for books that explained how the holidays of different faiths were practiced. Sometimes, I would even go to the children’s section and look for books that explained – to children of a particular faith – why they believed what they believed and how celebrated their holidays. It was around this time that I discovered the Jewish holiday of Purim, celebrated today at sunset! Tonight, synagogues everywhere will be filled with people celebrating their deliverance from a plot that was intended to wipe out their entire people-group.

The story of Purim can be found in the book of Esther.

Esther’s given name was Hadassah, and she was a Jew living in Susa – a city in modern day Iran. As a child, she was orphaned and taken in and raised by her older cousin, Mordecai. Meanwhile, the royals were experiencing a little trouble in paradise. King Xerxes was upset with his wife, Queen Vashti, for her public display of disobedience to him during a banquet he’d thrown. King Xerxes wanted to set an example that wives everywhere need to obey their husbands, and so he divorced Vashti and began looking for a new Queen.

Esther, along with all of the other beautiful young women in King Xerxes’ 127 provinces, was sent to the king’s harem in Susa in order to compete in the ultimate episode of “The Bachelor.” Hadassah donned her new name, hid her Jewish identity from everyone, and found favor with those she encountered at every turn. Eventually, she caught the attention of King Xerxes.

While Esther was vying for her spot as Queen, her cousin Mordecai discovered a plot that the King’s most trusted advisor, Haman, had created to exterminate all of the Jews in King Xerxes’ realm. Mordecai urged Esther to use her influence over King Xerxes to thwart this plot. Esther was hesitant, but Mordecai convinced her. What is probably the most quoted line from the book of Esther comes from Mordecai’s plea to her, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). Esther was convinced by her older cousin and after three days of fasting and prayer, approached, unsummoned, the throne of the King (for which the consequence would be death), with a plan to reveal Haman’s plot. As the story goes, Esther eventually reveals Haman’s plans to get rid of the Jewish people, and that she herself is a Jew. King Xerxes becomes angry with Haman and has him hanged.

But the details of Esther’s story may extend further than what’s recorded in the Bible. According to Jewish tradition, it is suspected that Esther had a much harder life than the Bible lets on. Mordecai loved her, perhaps, but it may also be true that he was sort of an over-controlling “helicopter parent.” It is also said that King Xerxes was more an abusive than romantic husband. Again, he may have loved Esther, but with the way that women were treated at that time, it would have been perfectly acceptable for a King to rape and hit his wife for no other reason but as an outlet for his personal stresses and frustrations. And, running 127 provinces from India to the Upper Nile region was probably the source of a whole lot of stress! We also don’t know whether or not King Xerxes and Queen Esther ever had children! If not, I’m sure that was reason enough for marital rape and abuse in those times. Esther risked sacrificing her life by approaching the King to warn him of Haman’s plans, but she also may have sacrificed the type of life that she probably dreamed for herself – a decent, hard-working husband, sons to fill her home and give her validation as a woman, and the ability to live simply, working and worshiping as she pleased.

But as Mordecai wisely said, “…you have come to royal position for such a time as this…”

Queen Esther may have been the Queen mentioned in Nehemiah 2:6 as well, in position to convince King Artaxerxes (after the death of her own husband) to allow Nehemiah to go and rebuild the Temple. Although the book of Nehemiah appears before the book of Esther in the Bible, we do know that the Bible is not put together in chronological order. A little light research informed me of the possibility that after King Xerxes died, he was succeeded by King Artaxerxes and Queen Esther acted as the Queen Mother. When Nehemiah, the king’s cup-bearer, asked King Artaxerxes to go and rebuild the Temple – a Queen is mentioned as being there, in on the conversation, and I wonder if Queen Esther had anything to do with the Temple’s rebuilding as well. If so, Queen Esther didn’t just save her people – but helped to restore the traditions of Jewish worship that had been destroyed and forgotten as well!

On a personal note, I have always felt a deep connection with Esther. I have always aspired to live my life in a way that protects and rescues others, and she has been my favorite Bible character ever since I learned of her story. If I had to say that I had a role model or if I were asked that famous “if-you-could-have-dinner-with-one-dead-person…” question, my answer to both would be Esther. I’m delighted to have been compared to Esther on more than one occasion in my life, and I’m always excited around Purim to celebrate someone who so selflessly endangered her life in order to protect and restore the lives of others.

There is so much to learn from the story of Esther, and I’d encourage everyone to read it!

Happy Purim!

Christianity, Religion

Lent Begins!

Without fail, the Lenten season sneaks up on me every year. I always find myself scrambling at the last minute to decide on the most meaningful way for me to participate, and I usually fail miserably somewhere in between days 5 and 10. I grew up in a Christian tradition that did not observe Lent, and I had never even heard of the 40-day period of fasting until I was in high school! As a non-Catholic, non-Orthodox, and non-Protestant Christian, it is sometimes very hard for me to find a sense of community during these times of the year – and as a result I tended not to participate in Christian rituals like Lent. I didn’t begin seriously trying to observe Lent until about two or three years ago, and even now I partially attend a church that makes no mention of it. It’s no wonder that I’m always caught off guard whenever the season rolls around. Still, I want to make Lent a part of my spiritual practice, and this year I really want to hold myself accountable in observing the season.

Fasting has always been a difficult concept for me. As a child, my church used to hold a fast each Tuesday, and I didn’t get how being hungry and having stale breath all day could bring a person closer to God. As a pre-teen, I converted to Islam and learned that fasting was meant to help build compassion for those who go hungry every day. This made sense to me, and as I got a little older I understood that fasting was about self-denial. Still – every time I fasted it seemed like I was just counting down the minutes until I could eat again – it didn’t improve my spiritual life. By the time I’d returned to Christianity, I had completely given up on the idea of fasting. I was no longer under any requirement to do so, and so I didn’t.

This year, I am going to try to re-embrace the fast by giving up all beverages except water for the next 40 days. I think this is going to be a challenge that is not insurmountable, but also not easy. I am addicted to fruit juice. I love my cran-apple, peach-mango, pomegranate-cherry, and white grape juices. I also enjoy a tasty rum-based drink or margarita every once in awhile, and on rarer occasions when I’m feeling especially in a junk food mood I like to have a red bull with pizza or a burger.

I am hoping for three things this lent (1) not to fail, (2) to get a better understanding of why fasting is important, and (3) to discover how to more clearly hear what God is saying to me. Of course, I’ll be blogging this lenten journey and hopefully will learn something along the way. I’m such an amateur when it comes to fasting! There’s a lot for me to learn.

If you’re observing Lent, what are you giving up or doing differently this year?

Christianity, Religion

Experimenting with Prayer

As I’ve mentioned here before, I enjoy experimenting with different types of prayer. My first experiences with prayer were of the extemporaneous sort where you say whatever is on your heart. I then experienced salat as a Muslim in my early teens, and since then I have found it intriguing to read about, study, and try out different forms of prayer from various religions.

Growing up, the spontaneous prayer style was always a bit hard for me. I need more structured prayers because my mind wanders entirely too much when I pray.  I could start off praying for a friend’s broken car, for example,  and before long I’ll be thinking about what caused the car to break down and how cars actually work. Then I’ll start asking inward questions about different car companies and why, if cars are basically made the same way, do some cars work better and break down less frequently than others? Then I’m wondering about global car companies and how the cars are made and sent here and where they get the money for it all, and how do you get into the car business, anyway? And before long, I’ll forget I was ever praying at all!

After learning to pray salat, which involves not only recited words but bodily movements that kept me focused, I realized that there are other ways to pray aside from what I’d been taught, and that I thrived in prayer that had form and structure. After my days as a Muslim were over, I continued to search for a prayer style that fit me.

A few months ago, I learned to pray the rosary. I had been interested in the idea of praying with beads but learning to pray the rosary was the first time I’d ever taken it seriously. I really enjoyed the experience and gained alot of insight into the Catholic faith. However, what I think stood out to me the most was how quieted my mind became. I’ve always had a hard time getting my mind to “be still,” and praying the rosary was the first time that I experienced prayer without the wandering thoughts. I wanted to keep that up.

But, I’m not a Catholic. And as much as I respect and love the Catholic faith, I still don’t feel comfortable making the rosary part of my everyday prayer regimen. So, I thought of a compromise. I’ve continued to pray using rosary beads, but not actually praying the rosary. I hope my use of rosary beads isn’t offensive to the Catholic faith, but I want to share what I’ve been doing in case there are any others like me who aren’t Catholic or Orthodox but are searching for a more structured prayer style.

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At the beginning of a prayer session, between the cross and the first yellow bead, I say what I’ll call an “intention” prayer. It’s just a greeting, really, letting God know I’m getting ready to pray. I also try to think about God and get in a mindset for prayer. I tell God that I’m grateful for Him and for the blessing of being able to come to him in prayer. I also use this time to thank God for anything I want to thank him for, and I may say something like, “Lord, please consider all the prayers I am about to say as prayers for anyone who is sick or dying in the hospital right now.”I end this section on the first yellow bead by saying “in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen. ”
On the three beads between the two yellow beads, I pray the Jesus Prayer. This is an Orthodox Christian prayer that simply says, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I use this portion to ask God’s forgiveness for anything I know I’ve done wrong or to help me with anything I know I need to do better with.

On the second yellow bead, I pray “Glory be to the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit, as it was, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, amen.”

On the decades of beads, (the ten beads in a row), I pray a scripture that I want to commit to memory for the day. For example, if I had already dedicated my prayer session for all those sick and dying in the hospital, then the scripture I might be praying could be “so we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”

This is a good way to help memorize different verses of scripture because by the end of the prayer, I’ve repeated the verse fifty times.

At the end of each decade of beads, there is a yellow bead. On these yellow beads I have been praying spontaneous prayers for people or situations that I know of personally. Once I finish all five decades, I say another “Glory Be,” and where I had before said the Jesus Prayer three times, I say the Our Father three times.

On the very last bead, just before I get back to the cross again, I thank God a second time and end with “In the name of the father, and of the son…”

This style really works for me in terms of keeping me focused on the prayer I am praying and in terms of keeping my mind quiet enough to discern if God is saying something to me. Many times, while I am praying the scripture memorization portion, God will tell me what to pray for at the next “spontaneous prayer” portion. This is the first time that I’ve experienced God telling me what to pray for, so I think that’s kind of neat. I am so glad that this prayer idea came to me, because it came at a time where I was starting to feel so burned out by my failed attempts at a decent prayer life. I don’t think I ever would have thought of this if I hadn’t tried praying the rosary a few months back. So I’m very grateful!

What’s your favorite way to pray?

Christianity, Infertility, Religion

Whatever My Lot.

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For most of my life, I have thought of self-denial as denying myself things that are pleasurable, but not spiritually beneficial for me. My first experience with self-denial came as a pre-teenager, when my mother wouldn’t let me listen to the type of music I wanted to listen to. Her explanation was that it caused me to become desensitized to a value system that was not Biblical. She did the same with movies and TV shows, telling my sisters and me what we could and couldn’t watch based on whether or not it (as she would say)”glorified sin.”

When I heard the scripture where Jesus said that his followers must “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow [him],” I naturally (and rightly) assumed it meant that a person who wanted to follow Jesus must repent of their misdeeds, stop living according to their feelings and desires, and strive to live according to the standards that Christ laid out for us. That sounds legit, right?

But I am learning that self-denial does not always mean a rejection of fun but spiritually damaging habits. Sometimes, the self-denial that Christ asks of us is much more costly.

I normally don’t get a chance to attend church on Sunday, but today, by some random twist of events, I did. One of the songs we sang this morning was a pretty popular hymn called “It is well with my soul.” The story behind the song is equally well-known. The author (Horatio Spafford) wrote this song, after a string of tragedies in which he lost his son to scarlet fever, lost his wealth in the Chicago fire, and then lost his four daughters in a ship accident.

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say: it is well. It is well with my soul. “

I’ve sung this song a million times, but today it actually meant something. I am beginning to accept my “lot” as an infertile. Of course, it makes me tremendously sad to think that I may never bear children. I daresay I am battling an increasingly severe depression. I am living through what I see as the death of a life that I have always hoped for. But God has deigned this to be, so I must deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him – whatever my lot.

When I think now of self-denial, I think not just of the trivial pleasures that some of us have such a hard time giving up. I think not just of doing the right thing, even when you feel like doing the wrong thing. I think of giving up your entire life – your plans, your ideas, your hopes, your goals – letting God destroy you for the greater good of His purposes. Self-denial is about giving up control.

I still have a long way to go. Infertility is the thorn in my side that will be a cause of heaviness and grief until I either have children, or die. But I know that my life is not about me or my plans – so I will deny myself, and I will take up my cross, and I will follow Him.

And I hope I will eventually be able to say, like Horatio, that it is well with my soul.

Christianity, Family, Religion

This Time, Next Year…

“Some women know why // Feeling ill brings so much hope. // The greatest let down.”

I’m not a poet, but I love haikus. Several months ago, I wrote this haiku at the end of a highly-symptomatic two week wait that ended in failure. False hope is something that any woman trying to conceive for more than a few months faces at various times during her journey. Generally, our false hope comes in the form of having multiple pregnancy symptoms that – no matter how convincing or plausible – turn out to be the result of something other than pregnancy. But for some of us, false hope shows up in other ways.

About a year ago, in the middle of August an old friend’s husband, that I don’t know very well, approached me through social media to inform me that God had told him I would conceive within a year’s time. My first reaction was surprise that someone I never speak to would contact me to tell me this. My second reaction was skepticism.

I told my husband about what had been said, and although I think he was a little put off by the fact that another man approached me about my fertility – he kept an open mind and said that we should pray about it. After all, we do believe that prophecy can be real. I just happen to believe that most of the time, it isn’t.

Over the next few weeks, I tried to think over some reasons for and against belief. The pros were that (1) As far as I knew, this man knew nothing about our struggle with infertility, (2) he had predicted – or prophesied – the conception of his own child, to the month, well before it happened, and (3) as far as I could tell, this man and his wife are devout believers in Christ who, even if they’d mis-heard God, would not intentionally lie to me.

The cons included questions like (1) why would God speak to some other man about our fertility instead of speaking to my own husband? (2) why did the man’s wife not say anything to me about it – since she is the person with whom I am actually friends? and (3) what if the man did know about my infertility via his wife (who really didn’t know much herself, but could have speculated)? What if they had been praying for us and were just trying to make us feel better, as opposed to actually having had a revelation from God?

I was afraid to believe in something that would turn out to be untrue, but I was also afraid not to believe something that God may have said. I thought it would be better to err on the side of faith, but still wasn’t ready to make that leap. So I discussed my dilemma with God and asked him to confirm whether or not this prophecy was true.

The following month, on the same date that I had received the first prophecy, a woman from my mother’s church revealed that she had seen me and was struck with the impression that I would be pregnant “soon.” Could this be the confirmation? I was still doubtful. I asked God to forgive me if this was supposed to be my “sign,” but I told him that I needed more confirmation than that if I were going to start believing that this prophecy had been true.

For a long time, I got nothing. I wasn’t sure how to interpret God’s silence. It could have meant that God was telling me that the prophecy was not true. It could have meant that the prophecy was true, and God was telling me not to ask for further confirmation since He’d already given it to me. Or, it could have meant that God’s response was to not respond at all in regards to whether or not the prophecy was true. My biggest concern was that I did not want to believe in something that God had not actually promised. What a waste of time that would be!

During this time, I started to mature in this infertility process. I went from naively hoping to be pregnant each month to understanding that ultimately, I want God’s will to trump mine, even if that means I will never conceive. If I’m being honest, I was skeptical of this prophecy for the majority of the year, and my doubt made me feel guilty. I kept remembering the story in the Bible where Jesus did no miracles in Nazareth because the people there did not believe. I started putting effort into believing this prophecy. Every time I thought negatively of it, I tried to correct myself and change my thinking. Whenever I imagined future events – upcoming vacations, relocations, anniversaries, birthdays, etc – I tried to imagine myself either pregnant or with a child in tow. I tried to picture how I would plan to accomplish certain tasks or obligations around this future, mystery baby. Whenever someone else got pregnant (at least fifteen people in my life announced pregnancies during this time period), I told myself that, according to this prophecy, I wasn’t going to be very far behind them.

Still, I struggled with doubt. And the fact that I had received no additional confirmation of this prophecy caused me to believe that most likely, it wasn’t true.

One afternoon I was reading the Bible when I came across the story of Abraham and Sarah. God had come to them and said, “I will return to you this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” (Genesis 18:10). A similar prophecy was made in 2 Kings 4:16, when Elijah prophesied that someone would have a son the following year. I didn’t go looking for these passages, I didn’t even know about them prior to having randomly found them. I wondered if these scriptures could be the confirmation that I had been waiting for? At the very least, they confirmed that God does in fact allow prophecies of the type that I received.

As month after unsuccessful month dragged on, I felt increasingly torn between skepticism and belief and I had no idea how God wanted me to handle it. On one hand, I am skeptical by nature. And although I believe that God can do anything – I need to make sure that He actually said He’d do it before I go around putting any faith into it. On the other hand, I’d heard so many stories in my life of people who had, against all odds, held onto their faith that something would happen and were proven right! I wanted to be on that side of my story. I didn’t want to be the one who gave up. So, finally, in the last five months of the year in question, I decided to put aside all doubts and just believe.

The final cycle in which the prophecy could be fulfilled arrived in August, 2014. By this time, my husband and I had been dealing with infertility for a grand total of four years (depending on when you start counting). We did everything we could to meet the prerequisites for conception, and the two week wait began.

It was one of the more difficult two week waits, for me. It wasn’t just the anxiety surrounding whether or not this would be the cycle. It wasn’t the fact that I literally had no symptoms of pregnancy that month. It wasn’t just the question of how to proceed medically if it didn’t turn out to be the cycle. It wasn’t just the fact that we’d attended our first foster/adoption meeting during this cycle. It wasn’t just the fact that we visited friends whose daughter was conceived at the same time that we’d actively begun trying. It wasn’t just hoping that, even if the prophecy had been false, God would make it true because we’d spent an entire year striving to believe it.

It wasn’t just the fact that I started my period on the day of a family friend’s funeral.

I had erred on the side of faith and had trusted in something that wasn’t God. And yet, God had allowed this to happen. With His complete understanding of all the over-analyzing that goes on inside my head. With His full awareness that I forced myself to believe this untruth because of a desire to please Him in the first place. With His absolute knowledge of whether or not I will ever be a biological mother. Instead of telling me, “Elisabeth, this prophecy is not from me.” He allowed me to believe in a lie. And if a ‘next time’ ever comes around, how will I know whether or not God has truly spoken?

Is it too trusting of me to say that there must be a reason He allowed this? I’m not mad at God. I’m not mad at the false prophet. Things are what they are, and I accept that. But I can’t help but wonder – what is the purpose of wasted time? What is the purpose of false hope?

Is there one?