Does everything really happen for a reason?

A couple of weeks ago while driving my normal route to work, in an area I don’t spend too much time in except to cut through to the highway, a detour was placed on the exact roads I needed to take to get to that highway.  Furthermore, this detour was taking place in an already congested area, so this was doomed from the start.  What would normally take me twenty minutes to get out of this town and onto the highway, took me nearly an hour due to all the traffic this detour caused.  Not to mention my commute is already over an hour long to begin with on a normal day.  So needless to say, it wasn’t the greatest start to my morning.

Here’s what I know about that situation.  It sucked.  Here’s something else I can be certain of.  It most likely did not happen for a reason.

If God created the Heavens and the Earth, created everything in it, and knew of everything to come before it ever got here, I can say pretty confidently that on this day in 2014 in Karen Veenstra’s life He did not decide to have this traffic nightmare enter into my morning causing me to be two  hours late for work for an extraordinary, spiritual reason.  It was simply a traffic jam.  In New Jersey, that’s a normal day.

For twenty-six years now, I have whole-heartedly believed in the concept that everything happens for a reason.  What a line.  I loved it.  Quoted it.  Wrote about it.  Spoke it.  Truly believed it.  But as I have grown to learn more about God and about our relationship with Him, I’ve taken some steps back to evaluate the situation.  Perhaps, everything doesn’t happen for a reason.  At least, not in the way we thought.

It used to roll off my tongue so smoothly and quickly when bad things happened to others or to myself.  But recently something has switched.  When I hear someone say those famous five words, I cringe.  I get upset.  I even get a little angry.  I’ve stopped myself from saying it that at times I’ve become speechless in horrific situations because I was so used to letting it flow off my lips like a go-to catch phrase a sports announcer would become famous for.

Something is wrong.  It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.  And I think that’s because it’s not.

When someone loses a loved one, especially too soon, and we tell them it happened for a reason, I believe we are lying to them.  First of all, it’s the last thing they want to hear.  What we should be doing is letting them grieve because their loss hurts.  This life is hard.  And sometimes there is just no explanation for that loss.  It didn’t happen for a reason.

Before I’m pegged as being insensitive, let me explain.

I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason.  I believe that bad things happen, and then God creates a reason.

When evil men decided to hijack airplanes on September 11, 2001 and kill thousands of people, I don’t believe that happened for a reason.  We live in a broken world where evil, disease, poverty and war exists and it’s because of this that 9/11 happened.  When we say things happen for a reason, I feel we are sometimes pointing a finger at God and acting as if He caused it.  He’s allowing this to happen to me so I can learn something from it.  This must be God’s will for me.  He has a reason for all of my suffering.  It’s thoughtful and sometimes true, but God is only good.  He does not cause evil to happen in this world.  But He will create good out of it.

And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him… (Romans 8:28)

God works.  He works in bringing good out of bad.  He creates reasons for everything.

Do I believe there are things in life that do happen for a particular reason?  Absolutely.  God is God and frankly He can do whatever He wants.  God does not cause any bad thing to happen, let’s be clear.  But sometimes He may allow something for reasons we may never know until the day we get to personally ask Him ourselves.  Just read the story of Job in the Bible.

This is plan B.  Our world is not perfect and God is working to redeem it day by day until the final day.  Unfortunately the world we live in will continue to produce bad things at every turn.  Unfortunately bad things will continue to happen in our lives.  You may be facing a horrific loss right now.  Or a bad diagnosis.  A broken relationship.  A lost job.  A lost dream, perhaps.  Whatever it may be, God is actually grieving with you.  He is literally crying, weeping, actual tears over every death, pain and sin in your life and here on this earth.  It is only natural for Him to want to make things right.  He made that abundantly clear for us when He had His own Son die on a cross.

So the question is, how do we know the difference?  But I’d ask, does it matter?  Whether it happens for a reason in the first place or God creates a reason, it’s always going to be good because God is good.  And in all things, He works for the good of those who love Him.

That doesn’t mean all things are good.  I will say it again.  That doesn’t mean all things are good.  Even if we faithfully trust in our hearts that good will come out of our bad situations, that doesn’t mean our situation isn’t bad right now.  It doesn’t make it any less hard.  It doesn’t make a death of a loved one sting any less.  In our moments of grief, nothing does.

Finding a reason for our pain isn’t so that we’ll grieve less.  It’s so that we’ll hope more.

Because someday…

He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

He is making everything new.  Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true… (Rev. 21:5, paraphrased).

Walking in the Wilderness

It’s a lesson everyone agrees with, but one no one wants to go through. To be in the wilderness. To go through the desert. To walk through the valley of the shadow of death. How we get to that place varies in all of us, whether it’s tragedy, a bad diagnosis, divorce, depression, anxiety, etc. We live in a broken world, and sooner or later, our faith, which at times seemed unbreakable, will begin to waver. Yet we’ve learned, preached and agreed that it’s in these days our faith only grows stronger.

So why do we work so hard to avoid the wilderness?

I’ve spent the last few weeks pondering that question myself as I have admittedly been walking through the wilderness over the last six months. My faith had been questioned, doubts had surfaced, and panic had set in. I was walking in circles, looking about and seeing miles of desert around me. At first, I had no clue where God was, I had no idea which direction to go in, and I felt utterly alone. No wonder people avoid the wilderness. It can be a scary, forlorn place.

Most of my adult life I have kept myself from the valleys. We learn as Christians that our faith will ebb and flow, but we tend to try and keep it flowing as much as possible, never allowing the ebbs, even if it means putting on a fake smile every time we walk into church on Sunday mornings. We never want to show our hand. We must have it all together at all times.

The problem with trying to live the Christian life this way is that it’s not the Christian life. If you read through the Bible, you will not find one story of the greatest Christians who ever walked this earth that did not seem to walk through the wilderness at one point in their life.

Noah was asked to build an ark for a flood, when they had never seen rain. Abraham was told he’d be the father of many nations, but had to wait until he was one hundred years old to see this through. Every one of Jesus’ disciples, except for John, who was exiled and died alone, was murdered or crucified for their efforts in spreading the Gospel. Apostle Paul, who wrote nearly half of the New Testament, wrote parts of it from a stingy, dark prison cell, never knowing if he’d come out of it alive. And then, of course, there was Jesus. Even he questioned his Father’s plans when he pleaded to keep him from inevitable pain on the cross.

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done … And being in anguish he prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:42,44 NIV).

The New Living Translation quotes Jesus as saying, “take this cup of suffering away from me.” Tell me that during their suffering, none of these men ever questioned God. Tell me none of these men ever lost faith. Tell me none of these men ever walked through the wilderness. Now Jesus certainly never questioned God or his faith, but he wrestled with and anguished over the pain he knew he’d soon have to endure.   These men most undoubtedly walked through the wilderness, and I think that’s exactly where God wanted them to be. And Isaiah 40:3-5 tells us why,

A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; and make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed…’”

The Christian walk was never meant to avoid the wilderness. It’s in the wilderness where the glory of God is revealed. In other words, where you will see God. The wilderness, for the Hebrews, was a place of danger, but also a place of refuge. It was a place where God was questioned, but where He was expected to show the way. It was a place of great hardship, yet where they saw God work for the good of those who loved Him. And for us, it’s a place we prepare our lives in such a way to avoid, yet we see it’s clearly the place God asks us to go to prepare to see Him.

It’s in this paradox we learn that even in the wilderness, God fights for us. That’s what the Christian life is, a fight. Our fight can leave us bruised and bloody. Life can be a punch for punch battle with the struggles of this world. Is it a battle worth fighting for? Yes. It may not always feel that way each time we take a hit, but we didn’t choose to follow a man who won by never taking a hit. We chose to follow a man who won by taking the ultimate hit in dying on the cross. So we fight because we know the ending of the story. But on this side of heaven, that’s what Christianity is. It’s bloody like the cross. And it’s in our walks through the wilderness where we see the victories of these battles.

Doubts are allowed. Questions are okay. We are not less Christian when we wander into the wilderness with these in tow. It shows God we are willing to walk in the dark so he can show us His light. That even though we don’t understand, we will go forth blind to the outcome knowing God will be with us, because as Theologian, Alister McGrath said, “As with the Cross, our darkest hour may be God’s finest moment.”

So I encourage you, if you’re walking through the wilderness, or if you need to, continue on. It may be exactly where God wants you to be. Because it’s when we reach the end of ourselves that God can reveal Himself.

Walk through Darkness

I love to be able to sit and write out my own thoughts, but sometimes it’s better to sit back and read someone else’s. Below are the eloquent words of my friend and fellow writer, Shakirah A. Hill, who just submitted her first book proposal, is an incredible speaker and a joy to know and read. In her crazy schedule, she kindly agreed to guest blog on my lowly ‘ol site here and I am very appreciative! I encourage you to read on as Shakirah shares the struggle of fearing the dark (something so timely in my life right now), but why darkness in our lives can actually breed growth. Enjoy and follow her today!  –Karen

I sat across the table from my niece admiring how much she had grown. Kamari wasn’t a baby anymore—a fact she declared every chance she could get. Sitting adjacent from me was a ten-year-old young lady quite capable of ordering her own meal, formulating her own opinions, and rejecting my offers to hold her hand in public, lest she be spotted by her peers. Over the last decade Kamari and I have cultivated a deep bond because our relationship has always been one built on transparency and trust. I never aimed as high as being considered the “cool aunt,” though I—quite obviously—am. My hope has always been that Kamari knows she has a safe place to freely express her concerns, desires, and her personal truths. So, on a balmy Saturday afternoon over a hot plate of shrimp-n-grits, I ventured into the unknown places of my niece’s heart.

“What’s your biggest struggle right now?” I asked. It seemed like a sophisticated question for a young lady her age, but I felt certain Kamari would know how to tackle my probing with wisdom well beyond her years. She sat looking pensively as if pondering every word that would adequately express her current weakness. Then, after perching one leg under the opposite thigh to give more height to her tiny frame she let me in.  “Well, someone at my school told me a story about this lady who attacks people in their sleep if they don’t know the magic word.” She was referring to a new age urban myth, much like the ones we heard as kids. I looked curiously at her sweet face, wondering where the story was leading.

“And, ever since then, I’ve been trying to get over my fear of going downstairs in the dark.” She continued.

It was one of those rare moments when Kamari was vulnerable. I pictured my niece, whose hair is as big as her vibrant personality, clamoring in the darkness frantically searching for the light to alleviate her fear. I wanted to tell her that though she was only referring to an urban myth, which would never occur, the darkness doesn’t go away. It only morphs into life circumstances beyond our control and one day she will clamor through the treachery of disappointments, failures, and heartbreaks. I also wanted to tell her that even though she’ll have to walk through darkness the light will always come. I didn’t say these things, though because I believe as much as we love people and want to shelter them from pain some lessons can’t be imparted. There are some experiences we must face head on to fully cultivate who we are destined to be, even at ten years old.

Darkness is a breeding point for growth. Nature is our best teacher in this regard. There is a cycle within photosynthesis known as the dark reaction pathway (It’s no longer called this, but the new terminology is technical and boring—stay with me). The dark reaction is the second stage of a plant’s photosynthesizing, independent of light, which catalyzes the plant’s growth by moving energy captured from the sun (in phase one) to create carbon dioxide.  Plants need carbon dioxide to survive and not successfully completing this phase of the growth process guarantees that the plant will not survive.  In this way, darkness is good because there is a natural maturation process at work.

We’re no different from plants in this respect. I think we can all agree (if we’re an agreeable bunch) that walking through some of the darkest moments of our lives has produced good things. My life certainly has. It has taken betrayals, heartbreaks, setbacks and more to build me into the woman I am today. I’m proud to have the heart and character that I do, yet it was not without going through pruning.

Kamari will overcome her fear of the dark. She’ll learn to walk through it to make it down the stairs. Her desire for what lies on the other side of the darkness will overpower her reservations, as it is with you. You will learn to walk through darkening pain of your heart because your courage and hope for a better tomorrow will move you. And you will remember that you aren’t walking alone.

As we left our brunch date, Kamari and I couldn’t help to notice the beautiful weather. It was a bright day with light abounding. Looking ahead towards the horizon just over the city’s skyline I reach out for my niece’s hand. Flashing a wide and cunning smile she obliged my silent request and together we walked towards the Son.

KBobb | Wedding & Lifestyle PhotographerShakirah A. Hill is a writer, speaker, and dreamer. Though she is a New York native, Shakirah is currently residing in Washington, D.C. She loves Jesus, pretty clothes and showing the world God’s heart. You can follow her meanderings on Twitter @ShakirahAdianna or check out her website www.shakirahadianna.com.  

 

My pursuit of unhappiness.

It is now June. I haven’t posted on my blog since February. I guess I could come up with millions of excuses, but there’s really only one reason. My blog is titled Faithful Thoughts. But my thoughts have been hardly faithful over the last few months as I struggle with doubt, trust, faith, and even belief in God. Not for any particular reason, but just because our relationship with God tends to ebb and flow.

I’m ebbing.

I’ve been ebbing.

I’m waiting for the flow. Seeking it. Aching for it. I’m missing the flow.

Late Monday into Tuesday evening, our Liquid Church staff went on a silent retreat, and for twenty-four hours we shut off our electronics, put our schedules away and spent the day “just being with God.”

The question of the day was, “How is it with your soul?” We were to really spend time seeking God and meeting Him, trying to unpack that particular question.

How is it with your Soul?

If you want some sort of supernatural answer, I can’t give you one. I honestly came home from the retreat feeling like I heard nothing from God and as much as it was a great time away to step back from reality and to connect with co-workers, I felt it was a waste of time between God and me. I was sad. I was frustrated. All twenty-four hours I heard others joyfully explaining how God “spoke” to them or they “heard” from God or cried with joyful emotion at just reading God’s Word because it felt so powerful. People walked away feeling nourished. I walked away feeling empty.

Was that mostly my own fault? Probably. I tend to feel awkward during times of seeking God or I don’t take it as seriously as I should. I find myself fearful of the vulnerability I may feel if I actually dig in my heels and try. But I did try. I did seek. I did ask. I did pray. And I knew exactly what I was to pray for. I needed to pray for God to release me of my doubts, my fears, my anxieties, my disbelief. My soul is crippled in these things. I asked God for help. I asked to be released.

Nothing.

Empty.

Tired.

Defeated.

The retreat was coming to an end, and if I have to be honest, by the last session, I was coming to an end. All I wanted to do was go home, sit on the couch and veg. My time with God never came and my mind was beginning to wander off to other things. But as it did so, it still somehow lent an ear to what our Executive Pastor was sharing in the final minutes. And it wasn’t until I had gotten home and into bed that it finally manifested itself in my thoughts.

That’s when it hit me.

You see, the story that was shared was about a Monk who carried a gun. And, in all honesty, I didn’t pay attention much to the story until the end, but all I know is in order to be a true Monk, he had to give up this gun. But he had always had the gun, his whole life he had this gun. He felt it protected him, kept him safe. It was his defense. He didn’t know how to live without the gun. And he would feel uncomfortable without it.

But you seem uncomfortable with it, too…

Fearful and nervous, trembling, the Monk loosened his grip and released the gun.

I’m carrying a “gun.”

And God can’t release that gun from me.

Only I can release that gun from me.

God can negotiate, plead and expose my discomfort with the gun.

But only I can loosen my grip and release it.

Our pastor shared with us his “gun’, putting a name to it and asking us to do the same. And last night all I kept thinking was I had too many guns. I live in fear, I feel anxious, I doubt God, I don’t trust Him or love Him. How many guns can I possibly have?

But then I went deeper. Maybe those were all the bullets. But there was only one gun.

It was my pursuit of unhappiness… disguised as my pursuit of happiness.

Self-pitied. Bitter. Selfish.

These are just some of the traits in my soul that are rooted in me, that are below the tip of the iceberg, the part you never see when gliding on the ocean top.

Lord, forgive me. I feel the need to have perfection in my life. To have everything go right and to never let anything bad happen.

I’m bitter because this world’s not perfect. I’m self-pitied because my world’s not perfect. And I’m selfish because I want my world to be perfect.

God says stop searching for a perfect world and search for Me – a perfect God.

Why do you insist that I’m not Good? Why do you insist on controlling every part of your life? Why do you insist on nothing bad ever happening to you? I clearly told you you will have trouble in this world, so when it comes, why are you surprised? And more importantly, why don’t you trust me?

The purpose of the Christian life is not to be happy. Though happiness can come and it certainly doesn’t displease God to be happy in your life, it’s not the point.

Happiness was never the point.

Living for Christ is. And that petrifies me.

Because Christ died on a bloody cross.

And we all have our own bloody cross. And we’re expected to pick them up and carry them. However heavy they may be.

Bad things will happen to me. And each time they do, I have to pick up that cross, and carry it.

My fears have shown that I want to control the inevitable things in life. I don’t want bad things to happen to me, even things that will someday eventually come, like the death of my parents or loved ones, or getting older. And in this I built up a fear in God, one that caused me to believe He was and is not Good. That He is going to let these things happen. That I can’t trust Him. That I’m alone in this fight.

This reveals my gun.

I want the happy life. The perfect life.

But the gun that I thought was helping me fight, that I thought was protecting me from these inevitable things, is the very same gun that is destroying me.

If I continue to hold this gun it will destroy me.

I can pray all I want to. I can ask God to release me of these fears.

But the gun is in my hand. And only I have the ability to drop it.

God is asking me, like the perfect Negotiator He is, to drop the gun.

To love Him.

To serve Him.

To trust Him.

To believe in Him.

To live for Him.

To drop the gun.

Nervous..

Trembling..

Loosening..

I have a confession to make …

I am not a joyful person.

Gosh, that feels good to admit.

Contrary to what my blog tries to portray and how I try to be fun, loving and motivational on Social Media, none of that actually comes naturally to me. Joy does not come naturally to me. Faithful thoughts (you know, the title of my blog) do not come naturally to me. This is partially why I don’t write in my blog as often as I do. Because I have to muster up everything in me to speak faithful thoughts. It tires me out. It takes all of me to come up with something to say.

I know this about myself. God knows this about me. In fact, it’s true for a lot of us just because of the world we live in. I’m not sure if I’ve always been like this or if something switched along the way in life, but I do know I hate it. And I spend everyday trying to correct it.

The incredible best selling author, Ann Voskamp once wrote, “Joy isn’t an optional feature to the Christian life — it’s the vital feature of the Christian life.” Vital. As in super important, as in when you’re heart is not beating so well your vital signs are not looking so good. Joy is vital.

You live only when your heart beats.

You live only when your vital signs are good.

You live only when you’re joyful.

Am I truly living? I wonder sometimes.

Don’t take this the wrong way. I love my life. I love my husband, my family, my friends, my job. It’s all beautiful and wonderful. But the truth is, I’m human. And most days, I let bad circumstances keep me from enjoying these beautiful and wonderful things. I let one bad story or one bad traffic jam or one person’s ignorance bother me to a point where it completely pours over anything good in my life and no matter how many times I use the windshield wipers to clear my view, it never stops pouring and my vision is blurred.

Because I let my circumstances get in the way of my joy.

We sometimes take the meaning of joy to mean the same as being happy. This is simply not true. Happiness and joyfulness are not one in the same.

Happiness has to do with our circumstances. Joyfulness has to do with our hearts.

Happiness is a feeling, not a core trait deep in your soul.

Feelings come and go.

You see, I am happy, as long as my circumstances are good. But as soon as something changes, my foundation shakes. Why? Because I spend too much time building my foundation on my earthly circumstances instead of on the One who is bigger than the circumstances. This reveals my weakness.

I lack joy in my heart.

Is this ringing true for anybody else? Or am I admitting something that is making your jaw drop in disbelief?

Just because you’re happy, doesn’t mean your joyful, and even if you’re joyful, it doesn’t mean you’re always happy. In fact, God never promises happiness in life. But he commands us to be joyful. Because God knows we won’t always have perfect circumstances. He gets that. We are a broken world. He doesn’t expect us to be happy all the time with what’s in front of us. But He does know that He is a perfect God who created us, who loves us, who actually put His son in dire circumstances to bless us, and to not be joyful in these facts is to sin against God. He expects joyfulness, even in our pain.

When I learned this, that’s when I had my “jaw dropping moment.” Are you serious, God? How do you expect me to be joyful when my aunt is in her second go around of Breast Cancer and the diagnosis is not the best one? How do you expect me to be joyful when it takes me an hour and a half to get to work every morning? How do you expect me to be joyful when I see good friends lose fathers, and parents lose their children? How do you expect me to be joyful when every piece of news on TV is either tragic, horrific or full of hate? How do you expect me to be joyful in such a broken, messed up world?

You want the truth? God says.

You can be joyful in this broken world because this is not the only world. You see, there’s a better one, in fact, a perfect one that has your name written all over it. See, you know that song that Carrie Underwood sings, you know ‘This is my temporary home…’ – yeah, that one? She’s right. Stop worrying. Your future is set. Your home is waiting. But, right now, you need to live out your life down here. Go. Be joyful in this truth: You’ll have eternity with Me, your loving, unchanging Father.

It’s this truth I must continue to build my foundation on, everyday. Because this life is forever changing, forever broken, forever filled with horrible circumstances. And that’s okay. I don’t have to be thankful for these circumstances. Did you know that? You know what verse in the Bible I’ve misquoted the most in the past?

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

That’s a pretty well known verse in the Bible. And this verse might make you question everything I just said above. Wait. You just said God doesn’t expect us to be joyful (or thankful) for all our bad circumstances.

You’re right. He doesn’t expect us to be thankful or joyful for our circumstances. He never says that.

He says be thankful IN all circumstances. In other words, we don’t have to like our circumstances. Honestly, our circumstances can flat out suck.

You think God wants a daughter to be thankful for her Dad dying?

You think God wants my aunt to be thankful for a second go-around of cancer?

You think God wants any family member linked to 911 to be thankful for that heinous day?

God says that’s ridiculous. He knows how crappy this life can be. God’s not thankful for 911 either. He didn’t cause that to happen. That wasn’t God’s will. Here’s another misinterpretation of this verse. So many people think every little thing in life, good or bad, is God’s will. This is not true. God is only good. God’s will was for this to be a perfect life when He created Adam and Eve. The day they sinned was the day God’s will, at least His original plan to fulfill it, was broken.

This is plan B. Bad things will happen in this world, whether God causes them to happen or not. But this won’t stop God from fulfilling His will. He will take every pain, every hurt, every tragedy, every bad thing in this life and make it good according to His will, whether we see it in this life or the next.

It’s because of this fact He says to be joyful in our circumstances. Because our circumstances may suck, but our God does not. So that even when it hurts, we can have a deep sense of peace in knowing we have a God who only wants what’s best for us, as scary or unknown as His best may be.

I am not a joyful person, I’ve admitted that much. But that doesn’t mean I can’t obtain it.

I have to continue to believe I have a God who can sustain me even when my lack of joy cannot.

Everyday, I have to choose joy. And in doing so, I’m choosing God.

A good and faithful God.

Is Marriage a Cop-Out?

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So much has been said about marriage lately and when you should or shouldn’t get hitched. Not exactly sure why because I think it should and is up to the individual doing the hitching, but there are a certain few that decided to give their opinion on it. Great. I’m glad. It gave me something to write about.

Recently, a young woman at the age of 22, a blogger, wrote a post that was trending, titled 23 Things To Do Instead Of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23. You can read the post here: http://wanderonwards.com/2013/12/30/23-things-to-do-instead-of-getting-engaged-before-youre-23/ (In order to fully understand what my post is about, I suggest you read this piece first.)

I’m not here to dissect her list she put together. What she wants to do with her time is fine with me. Do as you wish. And I’m not here to counteract and create a list of my own. I’m here to simply say I think she has it a little wrong on what marriage could and should be like, if done right.

The issue I had with this piece wasn’t that she’d rather go travel and do things on her own before she gets married. Good for her. The issue I had was her overall, general opinion on married folks, particularly younger ones.

I got married at 23. Apparently, I am a cop-out because of that. Apparently, I have yet to see the world. Apparently, I am wasting my life because I tied myself down too early. Apparently, I’m just hiding behind my significant other instead of dealing with life’s highs and lows. Apparently, I’ll be divorced soon.

 It’s an admission that the world is just too big and scary to deal with it on your own; thus, you now have someone that is legally obligated to support you till one of you dies or files for divorce.

Guess what? She’s right. I fully admit the world is too big and scary to deal with on my own. That’s why I became a Christian. That’s why I got married. Because I don’t want to do this alone. Who really wants to do life on their own? I don’t. I truly don’t. And for me, it’s so much better that way. For me. Maybe not for you, or for her. But for me, it is. And I’m okay with that. I had no idea who I was when I got married, either. She makes a valid point. But it’s been so amazing to figure out who I am alongside someone else who’s doing the same thing. I’m not walking behind my spouse. I’m walking with him, hand in hand, figuring it out together. And I have some bad news. No matter how old we get, we’ll always be doing that. Finding out who we are will never cease, married or not.

To the girl who wrote this piece, I’m not here to bash you. That’s not my intention here. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I have my own. My hope here is to teach you something about marriage that maybe you didn’t know before.

— I’ve been single and I’ve been married (obviously). And I choose the latter. Every single time. I know I said I am Christian so you may think I’m some goody goody who never did anything wrong and married her high school sweetheart and it’s been nothing but roses. I wasn’t always a Christian, and I wasn’t always a goody goody, and I did my fair share of ridiculous things when I was single. I dated and I’ve kissed and I’ve dated some more. But nothing compares to finding the guy you get to, and want to, kiss everyday for the rest of your life. To come home each night to someone who sincerely wants you is a beautiful thing. You get to have a life partner to share every dream with, every nightmare with, every prayer with, every cry with, every laugh with, every embarrassing moment with, every ridiculous thing with. You can even eat an entire jar of Nutella, together, and not feel as guilty about it because they’re doing it too. (Although I prefer just a scary amount of popcorn.)

Grow, learn, travel, party, cuddle, read, explore. Do. Freaking. Something… other than “settle down” at 23 with a white picket fence.

– I do all of the above, with my husband. And he let’s me thrive inside and outside of the relationship. Life still happens when you’re married, too.  (And what’s wrong with a white picket fence? I don’t have one yet, but hey, that’s the dream!)

— Single life is fun and you can certainly find ways to grow and learn and find yourself. But I’ve grown and learned and found myself loving someone else and sacrificing for someone else more than I ever did when I was single. We already are selfish people, because we are human. We were born that way, so we can only go so far in finding ourselves in that way. We’re not reinventing the wheel when we’re selfish. It’s our innate response. You want to do something crazy? Try sacrificial love. It’ll teach you more about yourself and about life than you’ll probably ever want it to. But it’s incredibly worth it. It’s painfully beautiful.

— Marriage can be permanent. It’s sad our culture today feels that it’s not. That it’s okay to divorce and marry and divorce again. We millennials have no attention span and we’re always looking for constant change, the new thing. So when something goes wrong in marriage or we get bored or somehow fall out of love because my spouse doesn’t complete me or doesn’t make me happy anymore, we bolt. I get it. The divorce rate in the church is just as high. But sticking with a marriage? Fighting through the highs and lows together? Loving someone through all the crap that can divide you? Choosing to love your spouse when you may not like them at the moment? Sticking it out through every season of life until its sixty-five years later and you’re happier than you ever were, and you get to look back and see your best times were when you were young and stupid and supposedly too inexperienced to get married? That’s something to write home about. That’s crazy. More so than anything else you will do in your life. Stating vows and sticking with them, in this day and age especially, is more insane than traveling to the most insane place you can think of.

— Many people find that taking risks means to go out there on your own and see the world, do crazy things, find your “thing” as you’ve put it. And that could be for some people. Honestly, though, out of everything, I believe getting married is the riskiest move you can ever make. You are alone all these years and then one day, you officially decide to share every aspect of your life with someone, to completely give up being selfish, to give up your independence, your privacy, and everything that you did to create that life. Sounds so scary, doesn’t it? Something you may not be ready to do yet. Does that make you a cop-out? No, you just don’t want it right now. And that’s okay. I don’t want to go kiss a stranger. And that’s okay too. When I said, I do, I was making the most dangerous, most risky, adventurous, bold declaration I had ever and will ever make in my life. I was now willingly opening my heart to the person I love most, who I was most vulnerable to, ready to take on life’s adventures together.

Life is different for everyone. There is no right time on when or when not to get married, or set rule that you have to get married at all. Even the Apostle Paul himself in the Bible states it is better not to marry, because you’ll have less problems. It is not for everybody and quite often, God might call people to not marry, but have callings to do some incredible things with their lives, like Paul did with his. But most importantly, marriage is certainly not for cop-outs. Anyone who gets married, for the right reasons, is anything but that. I believe you’re wrong about that one. Choosing to lay your heart out on the line for someone else every single day, to show unconditional love for someone who will disappoint you and hurt you because they’re human… that’s what I call bold. A person with guts and adventure in their bones. That’s no cop-out.

I’m not sure why this opinion filled your heart and I don’t want to make any assumptions. But perhaps you just haven’t found that person yet that turns your whole life upside down. One that makes you look back on every adventure you’ve ever went on and say, “I wish he was with me for all of them.” One that when you think about marrying him, it actually fills you with incredible joy for your future, and not sadness for what you’ll be “giving up.” One that when you find him, your “you know you’ll be together, so why rush it?” philosophy will seem blasphemous. Like Billy Crystal says in the classic movie, When Harry Met Sally,

When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

Cheesy? Definitely. True? Absolutely.

I’m not telling you what to do here or that what you’re doing is wrong. Far from it. I’m happy if you’re happy. But I am telling you to realize there are some good-hearted, decent people out there, who just want to marry the person they love, who will work like hell to keep it that way, and will find great joy, adventure and risk in getting married and staying married to their best friend, life partner and love of their life.

I wish I could describe to you the love I have for my husband, but I cannot put it into words. It is a feeling that no trip, no view, no tattoo, no pet, no kissing a stranger, could ever compare to. So when I found him, why wouldn’t I sign up to spend my life with him? I sincerely hope and pray for you, that you find the person you love most and never let him go. That you realize how amazing and beautiful marriage can be. I promise it’ll be a journey worth traveling, wandering one…

Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t believe the lie that you have to go out and do everything you’ve ever wanted to do on your bucket list before you get married because once you do it’s all over. Why not save a lot of your bucket list so you can do it together? Because your life being over once you’re married is far from true.

In fact, it’s the opposite. Your life is just beginning.

My getting married was not a cop-out from living life. It’s a cop-out from living life alone. And so if I want to go somewhere, like the Philippines, I’ll go.

And I’m bringing my husband with me.

What would your Zeitgeist look like?

I called up Google and asked them to make a Zeitgeist for me, but they turned down my offer when most of the clips I sent them were of me sitting on the couch in my pajamas. I don’t blame them.

What you just watched was Google’s 2013 Zeitgeist. Zeitgeist is German, meaning “time” (Zeit) and “spirit” (Geist). The actual definition is the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.

I love this definition, particularly the words I put in bold – the defining spirit or mood. When I take those words and try and apply it to my own “Zeitgeist,” I come to a screeching halt. What was my defining spirit or mood over the last year? Was this last year everything I hoped it would be? Did I have any new beginnings or new frontiers? Did I find ways to help those around me or show any courage through my actions? Did I have to say goodbye to something or someone? Did I inspire others or be inspired?

Can I truthfully answer yes to all of these questions? Probably not. Maybe in some small ways here and there some of these apply, like new beginnings (jobs, puppies, family surprises) or saying good-bye when things changed or loved ones were lost. It’s all relative, but is it all a reality in our everyday lives?

The truth is, everyday we should be able to create a Zeitgeist of our own, one of good things: love, joy, courage, bravery, inspiration, gutsiness, and beauty. We just get so busy with our everyday routines we sometimes forget that we are supposed to actually thrive in the life we have instead of just survive in it. We think, if only we had more time.

Pastor Steven Furtick out of North Carolina had something to say about the old adage, if only we had more time,

With all this technology and all our devices, we can always see all the crap we have to cram in a day. So we always live in a state of emergency. But the spirit of emergency is the enemy of divine opportunity. Because God didn’t put you here just to count the days and see how much more crap you can fit in it. He put you here so you can see how much God you can get out of all the moments that He’s put you in… We miss the moments because we despise the mundane. ‘If only I had more time.’ Well you don’t get more time. What you get is the opportunity to make the most of the time.

It was as if God was pointing his finger directly in my face from just a few inches away like a mother who’s had enough with her nagging daughter asking “are we there yet?” God was relaying to me to stop wasting my time on wishing I had more of it. To stop asking are we there yet, seeking the destination instead of enjoying the journey. There are 24 hours in a day and there are 7 days a week. This is the allotted time you get and it will never change. You want more time? Well you don’t get more time! So stop fixating on that and start focusing on the time you do have.

We take for granted time spent with loved ones only to wish we had that time back when it’s too late and that loved one is gone.

We fixate on what we don’t have and spend our time working our rear-ends off to obtain it only to realize all we ever really needed was right in front of us if we just took the time to notice.

We use work as our excuse to keep us from doing anything we’re passionate about so we waste away from 9-5 instead of realizing that God loves work and wants us to be passionate about everything we do because it all should be for Him anyway.

Shall I go on? We can create a list a mile long and it still wouldn’t be long enough.

Next week we are ringing in a new year and that comes along with our own exasperated lists of New Year Resolutions. Do you have one? Will you stick with it?

I have many, thanks to Google. Here’s to new beginnings, new frontiers, to helping others, to bringing forth courage, to saying goodbye, to inspiring & being inspired… I encourage you to do the same.

Joining a gym? Great. Going on a diet? Fantastic. Going back to church? Even better. But how about making it a little more personal?

Enjoy the little things. Spend time with your family. Release yourself from that guilt and go apologize. Release someone of theirs and go forgive them. Volunteer more. Give more. Encourage more. Be kind more. Full of grace more. Read more. Write more. Sing more. Dance more. Create more. Have faith more. Trust in God more. Love more.

Work isn’t everything. Obtaining that new car or purse or extra cash to re-do the kitchen isn’t everything. These are not bad things, either. There is nothing wrong with wanting some nice things, but what makes it wrong is when we waste so much of our time on these things we forget what’s really important. We forget that at the end of our lives, we can’t take any of those things with us. We can only leave behind what I wouldn’t call things. No one will ever remember what kind of car you drove. But they will remember how humble and thankful to God you were for the incredible blessings He gave you. No one will ever remember what your kitchen looked like. But they will remember how passionate you were about feeding the needy. No one will ever remember your salary. But they will remember how generous you were to the church or to those who needed it most around you. No one will ever remember tangible things. But they will remember your intangibles – how much you loved, how much you cared, how much you gave. They’ll remember what mattered most. How many times have you seen in an obituary the kind of car the man drove his whole life?

An author once wrote, “Wherever you are, be all there.” Be all there. Enjoy this time you’re in. Because God makes it clear we don’t get more of it. We get opportunity to seize the time we have. If we do this, I promise our Zeitgeist will be worth watching, and the world’s Zeitgeist will be more beautiful than ever before.

Do you still believe in the power of love? Sandy Hook… One Year Later

As you get older, a year can seem to go by quite fast. I’ve heard it said, “The days are long, but the years are fast.” That makes perfect sense to me. Sometimes, when you’re in that day, in that moment, it can seem to go on forever, like the day will never end. Then you look back on a year and you can’t believe you ever had days like that because you just got used to writing down the correct year and now it’s on to the next one?!

A lot can happen in a year. It’s 365 days later, so something has to give. right? Last year at this time, it was just Adam and me. Now I have this furry creature running around the house and I can’t remember what it was like to not have her running around chewing all my nice things. Today I’m sitting peacefully at home listening to Christmas music, watching it snow and enjoying a lazy Saturday afternoon with my husband. This day last year? Not so much. I was sitting at work, listening to the radio and becoming numb each second that went by hearing of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. I’m sure most of us were.

A year ago today. 365 days ago. 8,760 hours ago. To us maybe those hours flew. But to the families of those victims, I highly doubt it. In any tragedy, no matter how much time goes by, it always seems like yesterday. 365 days ago, there was a horrific tragedy. However, 364 days ago, there was a tragedy, too. 363 days ago, as well and 362 and 361 and … you get the picture. Unfortunately in life there’s tragedy everyday. There was a tragedy yesterday in Colorado. Another school shooting. It’s almost normal to hear. That’s sad. Very, very sad.

Just a few days after the Sandy Hook shooting, I had the opportunity to go there in person and pay my respects, pray with folks and listen to their stories. It’s a day I’ll never forget.

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On December 14, 2012,  I was so incredibly close to giving up on humanity. Weren’t we all? Then I visited Newtown. And after I did so, I remember driving home feeling something in my heart I hadn’t felt in some time. Even in my anger, I had a sense of peace. I realized one thing, even spoke it out-loud alone in my car, maybe saying it to God or maybe just saying it to myself, or maybe I was yelling it out to the devil himself, I don’t know. But as tears streamed down my face, driving on the parkway on a late Friday night, I blurted out,

“You know what?! LOVE STILL WINS!”

I kind of laugh now, because I’m not too sure who I was talking to, but I felt like I just needed to yell it out. Ever have those moments? I do. Maybe it’s just me. I can be weird sometimes. In the moment, though, it just felt so right. My emotions were all over the place after seeing all I saw that day and what I saw was love. Love was sewn into every stuffed animal, every sign, every note, every tree, every light, every person, every rain drop that fell that day. It was freezing. It was wet. It was somber. It was quiet. But it was surrounded by and intertwined with love.

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My vow that day was to never give up on the power of love. In all its forms. Because love really does conquer all. Love is the epitome of God himself. “God is Love,” the bible says. Love really does win. We cannot change what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary. I so wish I could. More often than not we are not going to stop a tragedy from happening. But in those tragedies we can find ways to expose our sole purpose for living: To love God and love each other. When we do this, no tragedy wins. I repeat, no tragedy wins.

The love inside of us is stronger than we will ever know. And when you don’t spend your days giving out that love and finding ways to love one another, the most precious gift God has given us is wasted. I beg of you do not waste the love that’s inside your heart. Show it, in all forms. Tragedy may strike again tomorrow. Don’t waste our most powerful weapon we have to beat it.

So on Christmas morning, when you’re nestled in with your family, opening gifts and celebrating, don’t take it for granted. Cherish it. And remember not only the families struck by the Sandy Hook tragedy, but to all those around us who simply need a little more love this year. If you have plenty to give, give it. Someone may really need it.

The evil that took place at Sandy Hook took a lot from us. Our hearts are pierced and broken, especially for those directly involved. I cannot imagine and will not begin to imagine what these families are still going through today. But it didn’t take our love. It can never take our love.

Evil did not win one year ago today and it never will. Because God already DID.

Ugh… Life.

When I first became a Christian, I had this fantasy idea that all would be right in my world from then on. Life would miraculously get really good, not that my life was ever really bad, but I thought becoming a Christian really sealed the deal. Nothing bad will happen to me now because God loves me and I love Him.

I was so wrong.

I was so naïve.

Life doesn’t work that way.

Life is really hard.

Sometimes being a Christian is so painful. There can be so much hurt and sorrow in obeying Christ that many days you wonder if it is all worth it. We must deny ourselves and take up the cross, Apostle Luke says, but did we all really believe that? Did we all really understand what Luke was trying to tell us?

In other words, everyday when we follow Christ, we have to die a little… and daily lift up our cross – our thorn in our side – and give our life to Him. My goodness, though, this is hard. I’m tired and worn. Why does life have to be so difficult sometimes? Why are the answers so unclear sometimes? Why can’t we just know things sometimes?

I think that’s my most repeated “prayer” to God… God, I just don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

We all want to believe that everything happens for a reason, and I do believe this. This doesn’t mean it’ll take away the pain you may be in, though, or the loss you may have just endured, or the relationship you may have just lost.

Reasoning doesn’t replace grief.

Perhaps that’s why God doesn’t reveal all the answers to us when we want them. Maybe our Father is simply saying, Daughter, right now, answers or not, it’s still going to hurt.

Reason comes later. There is that hope. But our first step is trust. Can we trust the One who created us? Can we give it all to God and say, Okay, God, here is all I have. My mess is yours now. What are you going to do with it?

I want those kind of guts. That’s my prayer everyday. To trust in the One who gave me this life and to do what’s best with it too…

Is it easier said than done? Yes. Are there so many painful things we will never understand on this side of heaven? Yes. Is life hard? Yes.

I’m speechless sometimes at the sight of how broken our world is, how much pain I see loved ones in, how much loss I see people endure. How much hurt has been in my heart at times. With or without God, life is brutal. That’s a fact. I didn’t become a Christian because I thought my life would get better, after all.

I became a Christian because I didn’t want this to be the only life I had.

Because this life isn’t perfect.

But the next one is.

Tell me, can you trust in Him to get you there?

6 things we need to stop/start doing after the age of 25…

These type of lists have been popular lately and I’ve read through many excellent pieces. I agree with most I’ve read, and I’ve been inspired to add a few of my own when it comes to what we should and shouldn’t be doing by age 25. Here’s what I’ve come up with…

1. STOP: Saying yes to every outing your friends, acquaintances or co-workers invite you to.

START: Finding ways to be bored… and loving it.

You don’t have to be that social butterfly you always were back in college/high school. You’re older now. You can admit you’re tired and/or want to save money. It’s time to realize you just simply can’t handle going out two nights in a row anymore nor can your credit card. Sometimes the best nights are snuggling up on the couch with a glass of wine or a good drink with a good movie or show to catch up on. Our culture tells us a lie that being busy is a good thing: it means you’re important, successful & needed. But if we don’t find ways to be bored and simply do nothing, we’ll be burnt out before age thirty-five rolls around and we won’t be able to keep up with the expectations of others and certainly won’t ever feel satisfied. I’ve heard a lot of my peers say they hate being bored. I find this sad. Finding a way to love boredom and refueling from time to time is a huge key to successful living.

2. STOP: Sleeping in on Sunday. (Or Saturday!)

START: Going to Church.

Okay, so you don’t have to go to church, especially if you say you’re an atheist or a different religion or not religious at all. Not forcing that on you. But if you do have beliefs in God and you do call yourself a Catholic or Christian or Protestant or whomever… go to church! (This can apply to different religions, too. You can go back to your respective place of worship, too!) I know we all went to church growing up because our parents forced us to, right? And that kind of got lost on us when we were in high school or went off to college, but there’s something to be said in going back to it. I know so many people who say they want their future kids to grow up in church and they will go back once they start a family. Why not start now? Wake up an hour earlier and find a church you love. You don’t have to conform to where your parents went or even to the same denomination. Find a church that’s comfortable for you and don’t settle on anything less. You may be surprised by how different the experience could be as an adult than when you were a kid.

Oh and about not sleeping in on Saturday’s, that’s important too. It’s okay to catch up on sleep sometimes, but we could use that extra time to be productive. I’m a culprit of this all the time. I roll out of bed at 10:30 and my husband has already been up for three hours and has gotten a haircut, showered, stopped at the grocery store and paid some bills…. uh, I’m ashamed.

3. STOP: Hitting the snooze button.

START: Giving yourself time before work.

This can tie in to number two. During the work week, we love to take advantage of every minute we get to sleep before the long, sometimes stressful work day, the same way we like to sleep in on the weekends. It’s understandable. But it’s not the best use of our time in the morning. This isn’t college anymore. We can’t roll out of bed at 8:25 for an 8:30 class and show up in our pajamas. (I did this all the time.) In the moment, hitting snooze and getting those extra 5, 10, 15 minutes seems glorious, but it actually makes you more tired and in the long run, more likely for you to hit a wall at 3pm. You’ll be amazed at how freer you’ll feel and more energized at work if you wake up on time, or even earlier, and don’t rush to get ready. On my best mornings, I can wake up, make some tea, read for a little, pray and even work out for fifteen minutes. All before even thinking about getting ready for work. And then when I am, I don’t feel the tension of rushing out the door, making the drive seem less stressful & my mind less stressed. (This doesn’t happen often. I’m writing these for me, too, ya know.) All I’m saying is, your work day might be stressful enough. Why not utilize that time in the morning to slow life down and not add to that stress by, well, rushing through it.

4. STOP: Reading gossip magazines.

START: Reading something that actually challenges/teaches/makes you think.

I can be a sucker for magazines while laying on the beach, for sure. Mindless, silly, stupid stories on celebrities that don’t know how to act normal from one day to the next. It’s amusing. But I always feel worse after I put it down. In our free time, or on the beach, or wherever you are, it’s time to start reading books that are a tad bit more educational. When you have fifteen minutes, don’t check the gossip app or BuzzFeed on your phone, grab a book and read a chapter. Read a non-fiction, a biography, a self-help book; something different from what you would normally read. Even though we’re out of school for good, it’s important to stay in tune with our literate side, and not just by looking stuff up on google, but by physically opening a book. 

5. STOP: Choosing your friends over your family.

START: Hanging out with your parents (or the equivalent) more.

Let’s face it. Our parents are getting older. And you don’t want to regret not seeing them enough in their later years. You’ve neglected them enough in high school and especially college, pretending they didn’t exist unless you needed money. But you’re an adult now. And so are they. You may actually have a lot more in common than you think. You may even have fun hanging out with them! They are still your parents, of course, but they can also be your really good friends as you get older, and you could still learn a lot from them. They are wiser and know a thing or two these days. So instead of going to the bar on a Friday night, invite your parents over for dinner from time to time or go out to eat with them (and offer to pay.) Go to a movie, shopping, or simply spend time having cocktails and reminiscing. Cook dinner with Mom. Have a cold one with Dad and let him show you all his tricks on grilling a mean steak. Adam & I do this all the time. We are blessed to have both our parents live close to us. And we make sure to not take it for granted.

Oh and side note: If you have siblings too, make sure they are your best friends. Once you’ve all become adults, it can be such a gift to share life with your siblings, especially once you start families.

6. STOP: With your child-like expectations at Christmas.

START: Remembering you are an adult and need to give actual, real gifts now.

Being in the Christmas spirit as it’s right around the corner, I thought I’d end with this. I have been guilty of this many times before. There were a couple different years in college where I came home for Winter break empty-handed. On Christmas morning I had nothing to give to my parents, my siblings, my extended family. My excuse was always the same: “I don’t have any money.” And although this may be a legitimate excuse and my parents understood because, well, I literally had no money, this is not an excuse now. Even if you still feel you have no money, which you probably don’t, you should have a job of some sort by now, and you are half-way to thirty. BRING A GIFT TO CHRISTMAS. Our parents have slaved for twenty some odd years to make us feel important and shower us with gifts. It’s time to give back. Just be smart. Set a spending limit and find creative ways to show your family you love them with a gift at Christmas time. Don’t make your parents feel like they still need to be Santa Claus and get you everything you ever wanted. It’s your turn!

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As it’s been well documented, there are tons of articles circling through the social media world with similar lists, all of which can be true and are the opinions of the author’s. This was mine. Take it or leave it, or be inspired to create your own. What would your list say? Tell me what I’m missing.

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