Christianity, Family, General

About Vision

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I’ve been working on  a few different projects over the past several months,  and as I research more about these projects – and about entrepreneurship in general – one of the common threads I am finding is that I am often being asked to define the vision that I have for my life and my business pursuits. The reason for this is pretty simple. If you don’t know where you want to go, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever get there.

One of my favorite Bible verses comes from Proverbs 29, in which we are told, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” – Proverbs 29:18.

From a Biblical standpoint, I think that “vision” probably refers more to the big picture of putting God and others first in our lives. But it’s also true that not having vision causes us to wander along in life – sometimes ending up in great circumstances and sometimes not.

So I thought I’d spend a few minutes typing out my vision.

Firstly, I want whatever I do with my life to be God-glorifying. Since childhood, it’s been on my heart to please God and although I don’t always make the right decisions or do the right things – the intention is always there. I’ve always been a person with various ideas, ambitions, and interests, but I think I am starting to understand which of my ambitions and interests God wants me to use to serve others.

Secondly, I am a huge family person. It’s always been a dream of mine to be a stay/work at home mom. It took us a long time to get pregnant and finally make my dream of becoming a mom come true, and now I am working on the “stay at home” part. In fact, I’d love it if both my husband and I could work from home and be with our son and any other children we have, full time. As someone with a background in education, I know I would enjoy homeschooling and have been looking into starting a homeschool co-op. I’m sure that many people have the desire to work from home – it’s a very appealing thought!

If I were able to work from home and be on my own time, I’d love to get involved in various volunteer activities. I’d like to work with CASA, an organization that helps to advocate for foster children. I’d like to become a foster parent and have the time to spend with the children I am fostering. I’d love to spend time in hospitals with babies who need simply to be held and cuddled. If you can’t tell, I love children!

The final part of my vision is all about location. For years, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of living on a beach. I’m not sure yet about which beach – I’d love to explore the West Coast and certain islands – but I am always watching HGTV’s Beachfront Bargain Hunt, Island Life, Caribbean Life, and Mexico Life, because I love envisioning what it could be like to live near the water. The ocean is my happy place and I don’t think I could survive without it!

As I’ve thought through the things I’d really like in life, I’ve found that I am not as interested in wealth as I am in time freedom. Sure, it’s necessary to have money, but I only want to have as much as is needed to gain the freedom of my time. If I love what I do and where I live, I don’t even mind not retiring.

There’ve been a lot of things that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and when 2017 started I told myself that this would be the year that I’d lay the foundation for those things. I’m really proud of myself for keeping my word, it is so easy for me to get sidetracked and the execution of my ideas is something I have always struggled with. I am hoping that the work I am putting in now will help me to be able to live into my vision in the future.

What’s your vision?

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, 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?

Christianity, Religion

Bad Religion?

The Orthodox Cross

My husband and I currently attend a non-denominational Christian church that we  like, but I have known for awhile that if I were ever to convert to an actual denomination of Christianity, it would likely be the Orthodox Church. I am intrigued by the Orthodox church because of it’s ability to be both extremely tangible and yet elusive and ethereal. I am one of those people who is able to simultaneously embody two extremes. On one hand, I am extremely ritualistic. I love set prayer times, a specific pattern of worship, and set fast or feast days, these rituals give me a  feeling of connection to the entire church – both present and ancient. It was the same when I was a Muslim. I loved making salaat, knowing that every Muslim in my time-zone was making salaat with me. I also loved fasting during Ramadan, knowing that every Muslim in the world was fasting with me. There’s such a tangible connection to faith that can be found in rituals.

At the same time, I understand that rituals can become very dangerous when we don’t pause to contemplate the reason why we are performing the rituals. And for that reason, I also love it when faiths have a certain amount of freedom in them. We shouldn’t think that just because we prayed at a certain time or fasted for lent that we are spiritually ‘in the clear.’ Our hearts have to continuously be examined in order for us to make sure that we are always living out the commands of God in every life-situation. To me, the Orthodox church is the very definition of a group that has found a way to be both spontaneous and ritualistic in their worship of and love for God. They keep to the rituals, but they don’t neglect the heart.

That said, today begins the Lent season for the Orthodox Church! I am not fasting along with the Orthodox, but I am following their more casual lectionary that I found in the back of my Orthodox Study Bible. Today’s readings were Isaiah 1:1-20, Genesis 1:1-13, and Proverbs 1:1-20. But I’ll just be focusing on Isaiah 1:1-20 as it relates to other religious texts that I am reading.

In Isaiah 1:1-20, God is angry with the Israelites because they are living an ungodly lifestyle. Many of them have turned away from their God – YHWH – and are worshiping idols. They have stopped caring for the orphans and the widows, they are murdering, slandering, and stealing – and yet they continue to practice the rituals that YHWH instituted for them in the Law of Moses. In other words, their rituals are in tact, but they have neglected their hearts. God is warning them, he is fed up with their observance to his ceremonial laws when they do not observe his moral laws. If they do not repent and do better, they are going to be in big trouble.

I feel that God speaks this same message through many different faith groups.

-“The Master said, ‘A man who is not humane, what can he have to do with ritual?'” – Confucian Analects.

-“Even three times a day to offer three hundred cooking pots of food does not match a portion of the merit acquired in one instant of love.” – Buddhist text, Nagarjuna, Precious Garland.

-“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth.” – Jesus, Matthew 15

-“It is not piety that you turn your faces in prayer to the East and to the West. True piety is this: to believe in God, and the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the Prophets, to give of one’s substance, however cherished, to kinsmen, and orphans, they needy, the traveller, beggars, and to ransom the slave, to perform the prayer, to pay the alms…” Qur’an, Sura 2

-“What is Shinto? Not in the shrines the wordly minded frequent for gifts in vain, but in good deeds, pure of heart, lies real religion.” -Shinto text, Genchi Kato.

And finally another one from the Bible:

-“Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

As a believer in Christ, I believe that Jesus came to regenerate our hearts. Many of us are religious in the sense that we try to follow religious rules, but our hearts aren’t in it! We don’t have to numbly follow the rules without understanding why the rules are there or without knowing the God who made them! No matter what faith tradition one follows, it is such an appropriate start to the Lenten season (or any season of life, really!) to renovate your heart by getting in touch with the heart of your faith and the heart of God!