Family, Holidays

Habari Gani? Imani!

It’s the seventh and final day of Kwanzaa, and I’d like to take a moment to be proud of myself for actually finishing this series. 

Today is about faith. Kwanzaa emphasizes having faith in our families, teachers, communities, and in ourselves to overcome any struggles or adversity that we may face as we experience life in brown skin. There are many of us who feel that we cannot reach beyond certain heights, but we can – and we will do it together. That is the concluding message of Kwanzaa, which ends on a day where many are making new year’s resolutions. 

The seven Kwanzaa principles are meant to be lived all throughout the year. There is so much that I didn’t cover in this series, but if you are curious to learn more I encourage you to do so! 

How can we celebrate the concept of faith, today? 

Write yourself a letter of things you want to accomplish by next year, and open it next year to see if you’ve gotten those things done! 

-spend time listening to stories of people you know who, despite adversity, accomplished something important to them. 

Many families celebrate the last day of Kwanzaa with a special meal! If you plan on doing that today, enjoy it! 

And happy new year! 

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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?

Christianity, Infertility

Haiku Sunday : Wings Unexhausted.

“Soaring with the storm.

Wings unexhausted. Softly.

The beauty of flight.”

I know. It’s not my best haiku ever.

I was walking with my husband to the movie theater last weekend, and we happened to see a little girl and her mother feeding a flock of birds. These birds were everywhere and in very large numbers, so I just had to get a picture of them. In the theater, as we were waiting for the movie to begin, I started uploading some of my bird pictures to Instagram and wanted to think of a haiku to go with one of them. I thought for a few minutes about what the bird pictures meant to me – aside from being random pictures that I took while walking to the movies – and as I scrolled through the pictures I’d taken, I was reminded of a sermon that I’d heard as a child.

The sermon, as I remember it,  was based on Isaiah 40:31. This verse says that “Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and will not faint.” The minister who gave the sermon was emphasizing the point that when eagles fly through harsh winds or storms, they do not tire themselves out by flapping their wings incessantly. Instead, they soar. They get up into the air, spread their wings out, and allow the wind to take them the rest of the way. The minister was trying to encourage us to have that kind of trust in God. Instead of exhausting ourselves by constantly trying to make our lives fit into our own agendas, we should learn to “spread out our wings” (relinquish our need to control and manipulate life), and allow the “wind” (God) to take us on the journey. In doing this, we find more beauty and meaning in our lives – because we allow the one who gave us our lives to also direct it.

One of the things that I am learning, through infertility, is how to “wait upon the Lord” and “soar with the storm.” I am quite an indifferent person, and have never really wanted anything very badly in my life. I’m easy-going and easy to please, and I have often mistaken my indifference for patience, peace, or acceptance. In the times where I have been denied a want or desirable outcome, I was able to get over it fairly quickly (within minutes!). The truth is, I’ve never wanted anything badly enough to really become frustrated when it was denied me. Furthermore, the few things that I have wanted in my life have been within my ability to obtain.

Infertility is the first time that I am facing a situation where I can’t have something that I really want, and I can’t control when – or even if – I’ll get it.

And I’ll be honest, I hate infertility. With a passion. But I can also see the beauty in what it is teaching me. I can see how God is using it to make me a better person – more compassionate, more transparent, more trusting, and with more respect for the gift and the Giver of life. The longer I struggle with infertility, the better I am getting at simply spreading my wings and allowing the wind to take me where it will. I am getting better at waiting on the Lord. And for that, I am grateful.

No matter what your struggle is, use it as an opportunity to learn how to have true patience. Use it as an opportunity to become more compassionate and sensitive to the silent struggles of others. Use it to find beauty and meaning in the life lessons that your struggle will inevitably bring – the life lessons that will equip you for potentially harder times in the future. Most of all, use it to learn how to wait upon the Lord. He knows what He is doing.

Soar with the storm.

Christianity, Family, Infertility

Dear God: Though You Slay Me.

Dear God,

Every October that passes without a child is another year that’s gone by since my husband and I began trying to concieve. There are so many lectures, songs, and scriptures that encourage us to worship You through the most difficult times of our lives. And although I’ve matured a lot during this process, I can’t say that I always handle my struggle to have children in the most spiritually mature way. In theory, it sounds like a great idea to worship You despite my challenges. On a day like today, when I’m home alone cleaning my apartment or working on a blog post, I can listen to all the uplifting music I want. I can post scripture verses all over my house. I can avoid looking at Facebook or Instagram where I am sure to see pictures of everyone’s children or pregnancy announcements.  I can pray prayers of thanksgiving for as long as I have the time. It’s so easy to do that.

But eventually I have to leave home. And when I do, simple, everyday tasks become harsh reminders that I cannot produce children. My body is broken, indefinitely. And I have no way of knowing whether or not it will heal. Only You know. That’s when it gets hard.

Seeing the love and pride my students’ parents have for their children is hard. I may never get the chance to experience those feelings for my own child. And yet, I know You’ve called me to continue working with children. Fighting with insurance about expensive medical prodecures that aren’t considered “necessary” is hard. Why can’t they see that I am only trying to get my body to do what You created it to be able to do? And, if You created it to be able to function in this way, why won’t it? Answering the “Why don’t you have kids yet?” question, and rebounding from the “You should be glad you don’t have kids…” comment is hard. A trip to the store or a walk around my neighborhood and seeing all of the expecting mothers and young families is hard.

Watching my husband play with our friends’ kids, knowing that it’s my body’s fault that he doesn’t have his own kids to play with. That’s hard. He may never get the chance to become a father, because of me. I have robbed him.

In theory, I am supposed to have a worshipful attitude during times like these. But in practice, those are trigger moments for me. Those are moments that throw me into deep holes out of which it may take several days to climb. Then, once I get out, I am often immediately faced with another such trigger moment. It’s a hopeless, relentless, never-ending, life-consuming cycle.

But this is the path down which You are leading me.

I don’t want you to think I am being ungrateful. Some people my age have lost their husbands. I know others who are facing terminal illnesses. I know people who have slept on park benches at night. I thank you everyday that I haven’t had to face those things, yet. And if Job could agree to trust you despite losing everyone he loved and everything he owned, I can surely follow his example and do the same.

I’ll just need You to help me figure out how.

Christianity, Religion

Even When He Won’t Fix The Damage.

2Cor

A couple of mornings ago, my husband was reading his Bible before heading off to work and became interested in one of the side notes written in the margins of his Bible. The side note said God sometimes declines to remove hurts and hardships. We got into this (very) short conversation – he had to go to work, after all – about how we see/know of so many people who are faithful to God yet continue to live with hurts and hardships until the day they die. One of the biggest questions that others ask me when we get into conversations about faith, is why God allows so many bad things to happen in the world – especially when the victims of these events are people who seem to always be doing the right thing?

For me this is hard to answer in a way that doesn’t come across too harshly. I have never been able to understand people who reject God simply because bad things happen to them or around them. I’m not the type to feel like God owes it to me to make my life easy or even any better. In fact, the Bible – and common sense – make it clear that life is hard. I am not entitled to anything from God, and what I do have from Him I have because he loves me – not because He owes me.

The apostle Paul wrote about how he had a “thorn in (his) flesh,” a “messenger of Satan to torment (him),” and he pleaded with God three times to take it away. But God did not remove Paul’s thorn. God’s response to Paul was simply “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  There’s more to that story. You can read the entire context of the scripture in 2 Corinthians 12.

I have been to some churches that seem to carry the attitude that if we have enough belief, or worship and pray enough – we can break away from every hardship in our lives. I find this mentality to be damaging, because I do not believe that God will heal everything at this point in Earth’s story.

I don’t mean to sound harsh. I do understand what it’s like to have a “thorn in your flesh” that you can’t fix and that God either hasn’t yet fixed or won’t fix. Aside from my own personal drama that is continuously unfolding, I have been recently affected by the random deaths of three healthy, committed, young people who left behind families with small children – a newborn in one case. But I think the appropriate response is to trust that God knows what he’s doing – even when He allows the worst things to happen.

Even when He won’t fix the damage that’s been done by those worst things.

I don’t want to make it sound like God won’t fix any of your problems – He can and most certainly will tackle and defeat a great many challenges on your behalf! But for those challenges that He allows to remain in your life, trust that He knows what He’s doing.

Uncategorized

Patience is a m…

Patience is a mind that is able to accept, fully and happily, whatever occurs. It is much more than just gritting our teeth and putting up with things. Being patient means to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are. It is always possible to be patient; there is no situation so bad that it cannot be accepted patiently, with an open, accommodating, and peaceful heart.

This quote comes from the Buddhist monk, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, in his book ‘How to Solve Our Human Problems.’ I first heard this quote nearly a year ago and have tried to live by it ever since hearing it. And of course, I don’t always succeed. The Buddhist principle of letting go of what we want and accepting what comes is a hard one to follow! I’ve always been a patient person when it comes to others, but never as patient regarding myself. I have prayed to have the type of patience that this quote describes, and it seems that God is giving me an opportunity to cultivate this mindset!

As I mentioned in my last post, my husband and I have been planning a move! We found the perfect place and just when it seemed that everything would go smoothly, we started running into a lot of ‘bumps in the road.’ The first bump had to do with the fact that they suddenly wanted more money than they’d originally asked. We did some negotiating and came up with a number that made everyone happy. During the negotiating time, I was so worried that things wouldn’t work out and we wouldn’t get to move into this place. Our current living circumstances – although I’m grateful for them – are way less than ideal and I have been itching to move for over a year. To get so excited, only to be let down was irritating, to say the least. Especially since I’d already experienced this excitement/let-down only a few weeks earlier when I thought (mistakenly) that I was pregnant.

When we were finally able to confirm that we could move in to this new place, I was happy and excited again. Still, though, I had a feeling that something else would go wrong. And I wasn’t sure if I only felt that way out of caution or because of my sometimes-keen instincts.

I had a dream that my husband would get into a car accident and lose his job as a result. And two weeks later, that’s exactly what happened.

Hopefully, he will find something before moving day (which is in three weeks)!! Just before he lost the job, we had been hearing sermons in church that dealt with not worrying and trusting God – certainly those were messages for us! But this situation is also stretching my patience, my ability to ‘welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises,’ and give up ‘the idea that things should be other than what they are.’

I’ll obviously be sad if we can’t move to this perfect place that we worked so hard to keep. But we have sought God in every decision we’ve made, and so He is guiding us. Perhaps what we think is perfect for us is not actually what He wants us to have. Maybe there’s something better.