The Sparrow

When I’m thinking of blog topics, God sometimes brings life experiences or just a word to mind. Today, it’s a word. Sparrow.

The sparrow is a small bird; most varieties being less than an ounce in mass. It is mentioned in Scripture though as an example of God’s provision though. An example, I think, God wanted me to see.

Jesus is speaking in Matthew 10:29-31. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

I like this reference from Psalm 84:3. “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young–a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God.”

Out of all the varieties of birds that God made, He mentions the sparrow and that the sparrow is near His altar. The sparrow is not a large bird; yet God mentions it specifically. It is a reassuring thought like no other. He also says we (human beings) are worth more than many sparrows. That thought is even more reassuring because sometimes I don’t feel like I’m worth a whole lot to God. When bad things keep happening and happening to me with no let-up and no reprieve, I don’t feel worthy. God could smooth over those rough paths for me, but sometimes He chooses not to. It is hard for me when He chooses not to because I see many people in the world and in the church whose paths look like they’ve been smoothed over. I will admit that I get jealous of those people. I want my path to be smooth while I’m here like the others I see.

But, that’s not the point with this faith I have. We’re not called to be comfortable while we’re here in this world. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, a method of death in Roman times known for its brutality. Millions of people have died or suffered in some way since Jesus’ death and resurrection just for having faith. So, not comfortable at all.

The words in the previous paragraph might make people think that all Christians are supposed to be homeless and hungry. And yes, I know there are many people in this world who are homeless and hungry, Christians included. I go back to the sparrow though, the small bird who is completely provided for by God and who God says we are worth more than. It helps me to remember that God will provide for us and that we won’t be homeless or hungry. It might look different from what I have now. It will be His provision though, and it will be enough. May all of us have a sparrow moment today!

God’s blessings on all of you!

Panic Attacks–Yes Even Christians Get Them

In my last two blog posts, I’ve spoken about getting out of the “faking fine” game at church. The book I reviewed in my last post, “No More Faking Fine”, was a great resource, and one, I suspect I will be tapping into for a long time.

Anyway, this past week I volunteered at the Vacation Bible School at my church. I was a tribe leader and really enjoyed my group of kids and my junior helpers. We all connected well and had a great time learning about Jesus and getting to know each other. We even made up our own song which was cool too.

The words “panic attack” don’t seem conducive to all of this, but I’m getting there. Towards the end of the week, I was asked why I wasn’t teaching in the children’s area. My hands started shaking, and it seemed like all the blood had drained from my face. I was wondering why I had been asked. This all happened in seconds though it seemed like hours. I made a brief excuse which seemed to satisfy the person and the other people who asked me. I guess the good time my tribe was having gave the impression that I had some great teaching ability.

I went home and thought about it some more. The teaching part intrigued me because I did work in a classroom before I began homeschooling so yes, I do have some experience. But then, the voices came. ‘Why would you want to teach? You have nothing to give these kids. There’s no security in your life. Why would you have it to give these kids?’ Yes, that particular thought was true. While I have the security of my relationship with Christ, I don’t have any other kind of security. At least the kind of security that other Christians seem to believe is important.

My hands started shaking again, and my thoughts went tumbling all over the place. I was in the middle of a true panic attack. I wasn’t sure what to say or do or if I needed to say or do anything at all. It was overwhelming to say the least. There was no way my mind or heart could believe that I had the ability to teach in the children’s area. I had to forcibly put the idea out of my mind for the weekend, or I wouldn’t have been able to function at all.

I woke up yesterday morning though with a reason behind the panic attacks. It could only have come from God. I was having panic attacks about teaching because of what had happened to me in our previous churches. The churches where, after I had been asked to teach Sunday School and had been teaching for a while, the people decided we were no longer good enough. After they had gotten what they wanted out of me, I was no longer good enough. My family was shunned for reasons I still don’t understand, and we left the church. So, being asked to teach had opened a locked box in the back of my head, and shame filled me. Shame, even in the midst of our VBS celebration.

We got to the end of our service, and I thought maybe I should ask for prayer. Then the voices came back and the shame along with it. ‘How could I explain something like this in ten seconds? How could I say I didn’t want to teach because I was abandoned by my church family the last time I tried? How could I say I was scared people would decide they no longer wanted to be a part of my life once they had gotten what they wanted out of me?’ There was no way I could so I didn’t ask for prayer, and the service ended.

It bothered me so much though that I came back to pray after my husband and son went in one direction, and I had dropped my other son off somewhere else. I sat at the cross by myself with my hands shaking and my thoughts in turmoil once more. I yelled and screamed at God. “Why, God? Why?” I truly lamented elements of my past for the first time. Dealt with things I thought I had packed away a long time ago. God and I talked for a long time, and I felt the first steps toward healing. Just the first steps, mind you, but enough to where my heart didn’t hurt so much.

I couldn’t recommend this practice of lamenting more highly. God wants a relationship with us, and He can take the yelling and screaming. I just wish I had the courage to share my laments with people in person, but maybe, that day will come. I pray today that we will all have the courage to have a real relationship with God–laments and all.

Praying God’s blessings on all of you today!

 

“No More Faking Fine”

I found out about this book in an interesting way. It was featured in a morning devotional I read a few weeks ago. I read the excerpt from the book, read the devotional, and was completely blown away. It was like I had written those words. No, I didn’t have the same experiences that the author, Esther Fleece, had. But, the experiences of my life, what has brought me to the place I am at now, have broken me to where I knew this book would be a good resource. I purchased the book a day or two later.

Like I said in last week’s blog post, https://alisarussell.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/gods-tears/, I have been an expert at faking fine while talking to someone in person. I’ve written a lot in this blog about the things going on in my life, but have had a hard time talking about them. Writing has been a healthy outlet for me as I’ve processed events in my life and how they relate to my faith. As I’ve said before, the last few years have been a struggle in believing that God was with me in my pain. It seemed that the bad things wouldn’t stop happening.

The devotion and the book have brought the word “lament” into my vocabulary in a real and personal way now. Yes, I had heard the word before, but it was more of a biblical word than a word that I used in my own life. Reading this book has changed that for good. Ms. Fleece’s words about her life, feelings, and faith personalized “lament” in a way I could understand. She was honest about everything she had gone through. Honest to a point that I would tear up at certain portions and wonder why the events of my life were bothering me so much. The old adage of “someone always has it worse than you” entered my mind. I’ve done that a lot myself. Stuffed things inside my head when someone talked about having cancer or being brutally beaten by their parents. Why was I complaining about my pain so much when others had it so much worse?

That one is a lie from the enemy though. Complaining is not the same as lamenting. We have to deal with the things from our past before God can use us to our fullest potential. God wants us to know He is always with us “in the sad and in the glad”. The author does a good job of explaining this in the book. She talks about her experiences of being brought to a point of lament, discusses the Scriptures that demonstrate how to lament, and writes prayers at the end of each chapter using these verses. Those prayers are what I appreciated the most. I read and prayed the prayer at the end of each chapter, and that is when I felt my new understanding flow over me the most. I know I will refer back to those prayers as I continue this practice of lament going forward. Because I will continue it. It has freed my heart and my spirit.

We, in the church, need to talk about the sad parts of our lives as well as the good parts. The church needs to be a safe place for this hurting world for that is the only way we will be able to tell them about Jesus. As I end this review, I want to quote the prayer that meant the most to me.

“Heavenly Father, sometimes it’s hard for me to see Your goodness when I’m in a prison and not in a palace. Sometimes Your help feels so far-off. Everything around me is overwhelming. Please give me the strength to cling to You, and give me eyes to see You, even in my darkest place. Give me a shield of faith (Ephesians 6). Let Your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy (Psalm 130). Listen to my cry for help (Psalm 5:2), and be merciful to me, for I am faint (Psalm 6:2). Amen.”

God’s blessings to all of you today!

God’s Tears

The inspiration for this post began last week. I subscribe to several devotional emails as I’m sure some of you do. I received one of those on Thursday, and it was eye-opening. It spoke of how our churches have lost the art of lament and contained an excerpt of a book entitled No More Faking Fine. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I do pretty well with the written word when I communicate what is going on in my life, but not so well with the spoken one. In fact, if you know me in person, faking fine is something I can do quite well, and if it gets to the point where I can’t fake fine anymore, I feel very awkward talking about what’s going on.

So, I decided this book was a necessary purchase for me and have begun reading it. I will review it when I’m done so I’m not going to go into any of the details yet. Finding out about the book was just a springboard for this post.

Anyway, for the last several posts, I have talked about what is going on with my husband (no news yet as to what it is) and relating it to my faith. The last few years have been hard, and this time has been particularly hard.

Fast forward to this morning. I had to get up very early to take my younger son up to the church for a hiking trip he was going on with his youth group. It was so early that I watched it get lighter and lighter as I waited for the bus to leave. When I got back home, it was still early so I decided to take my chair and sit outside and write in my journal. It began raining as I wrote. I wrote a half page, a full-page, and then stopped when I was on the second page. I watched the rain come down and remembered the Scripture I had read in the devotion. I know God has many purposes for rain, but at that point, the only thing I could think of was that God was crying. Expressing grief at all that I’ve had and will have to go through. Crying on my behalf. There’s not a lot of people who will do that. Oh, they will try to sympathize, and maybe one or two will empathize, but mostly, I cry alone. But, that’s not true. I don’t cry alone. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some Scriptures.

Genesis 6:5-6 says, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved.” Grief–sure sounds like crying to me.

The Holy Spirit also grieves. From Isaiah 63:10: “Yet they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit.” Yes, there’s another example.

And finally, the one we’re all the most likely to be familiar with. The shortest verse in the Bible. John 11:35 says, “Jesus wept.” We look at that verse and say, “Oh how nice, He was mourning the loss of his friend even though He was about to resurrect Him from the dead.” But, we don’t translate that to today’s church. People are made to feel awkward if they share their pain at church, if they answer the question of ‘How are you?’ with nothing but fine. I feel awkward too, but I have come to realize that I might be a pioneer in my own circle. I’ll speak more of this once I’ve finished reading the book, but God wants us to be sad with him as well as happy. He wants all of us because He loves all of us, and we all need to realize that.

But, back to the rain. God was crying with me. It brought an inexplicable peace to my heart. A peace that passes understanding. The peace that is described in John 14:27. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” It has been one of my favorite verses for a long time.

So, I grieved, and then I had peace. I think there might be something to this “not faking fine”. More thoughts when I am done with the book. In the meantime, I pray for the peace that passes understanding for all of you.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Uncomfortable Questions

This post was inspired by two conversations I had on Sunday–one with a nurse who spoke of how family members of certain patients were wanting the hospital to do everything they could to save their patient when it was clear they needed to start letting go and another conversation with someone about death. And it got me to wondering–why are Christians so afraid of death? I wouldn’t think there would be any reason to be afraid of death. Those of us who believe are going to our eternal home with our Lord and Savior. There should be no reason to be afraid.

But, some Christians are afraid so I wondered why they might be afraid of death. Is it the unknown? Is it a fear of being alone? Is it….because they’re just not sure? And those are the questions I want to explore today. Some people might be afraid that when they get to the other side, God won’t be there. I’ll be honest. I admit I have entertained those thoughts. Where has God been through all of my husband’s illnesses? Through all of our attempts to gain stability? Through all of our attempts to provide for ourselves and to give money to the church? To do all the things the church teaches that we’re supposed to do as Christians? I don’t understand. I have seen people at church who seem much more successful than we have ever been or ever hope to be. Have we not been the Christians God has wanted us to be. How does all this work?

I type these questions and realize I’m asking the wrong questions. It’s not what the church teaches us. It’s what Jesus teaches us. They get all mixed up sometimes which is why I get mixed up. We put all these rules on ourselves which Jesus didn’t do. And sometimes, the people who serve in our churches don’t speak the words God would have them speak or they speak the words others want them to speak. They’re not perfect just like we’re not perfect, and that is something we and I need to remember. That is why I need to study the Scriptures for myself and know what they say for myself and not just depend on what someone else tells me. Maybe, if more of us did that, we wouldn’t have as many problems in our churches.

Then, there are the family members of the people who are dying. They are scared to let their family member go because they’re afraid of being without them. They’re afraid of being alone. I’ve talked before about how the church doesn’t really know what to do with the person who is alone in church, who is without a family. And I believe that has contributed to why people want to explore every possibility of keeping their family member alive before letting them go or letting them die with dignity.

These are hard questions, and there are no easy answers, but it’s important we talk about them. Talk about what we want. That’s what I did Sunday night with my husband. I told him that when the time came, I wanted him to let me go, to let me go and see Jesus. Because that is what I want with all my heart. To be with my Lord and Savior in my eternal home in praise and worship forever.

I’m so grateful that God doesn’t mind if we ask uncomfortable questions. I’m grateful that He has been there through everything we have been through. He wants to talk with all of us and have a relationship with us even if we have what we think are uncomfortable questions. I pray that all of us would have the courage to ask God the questions we need to ask even if they are uncomfortable questions.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

In My Father’s Arms

I’m trying something a little different today. Recently, I’ve taken to putting earphones on in the morning and listening to Christian music once my husband has left for work and before my sons wake up. This way I don’t disturb anyone (We live in an apartment), but I can still listen to God speaking to me through the music and lyrics of the songs. It’s a win-win for me and for those who still want to sleep.

So, anyway, I was listening to one of those songs this morning, and I realized something. I’ve been depending too much on other people with this mess my family is going through. God wants me to look at Him for my peace, my comfort, and my security. He is our Provider and the One who is always there. I listened to the lyrics again making a point of letting them flow over me, and there was a peace, a peace that passes understanding like I had climbed up in my Daddy’s lap, and He was comforting me. That is the way God wants us to see Him, but too many of us make rules up or have a background where someone made up rules that prevent us from seeing Him in that way. I know this is something I struggle with. But, I want to be better. I want to feel His presence in my life in a way I’ve never felt it before. One of my favorite songs gave me a good start so I thought I would share the lyrics with you. It is the song “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns.

“Hold it all together
Everybody needs you strong
But life hits you out of nowhere
And barely leaves you holding on

And when you’re tired of fighting
Chained by your control
There’s freedom in surrender
Lay it down and let it go

So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
Just be held, just be held

If your eyes are on the storm
You’ll wonder if I love you still
But if your eyes are on the cross
You’ll know I always have and I always will

And not a tear is wasted
In time, you’ll understand
I’m painting beauty with the ashes
Your life is in My hands

So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your worlds not falling apart, its falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
Just be held, just be held

Lift your hands, lift your eyes
In the storm is where you’ll find Me
And where you are, I’ll hold your heart
I’ll hold your heart
Come to Me, find your rest
In the arms of the God who won’t let go

So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your worlds not falling apart, its falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held (stop holding on and just be held)
Just be held, just be held, just be held, just be held”

Thank you, God, for always having your arms available to hold onto me through the storms of life and I pray you will hold onto those who ask for your help!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Comfort for a Hurting Heart

It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve written in here, and I do apologize for that, but there were reasons. You might remember the last post I wrote.  https://alisarussell.wordpress.com/2017/05/03/dealing-with-a-chronic-illness-even-if/ For the last twelve days, I’ve been in a caregiver and management role. There is something wrong with my husband, but we don’t know what it is yet. We are waiting on the results of a scan and for him to go to a specialist this Friday. Waiting is hard. Harder this time than it’s been for a while. It’s even harder because he’s our sole income, and we don’t know what’s going to happen. He is working this week because he has to, but I know it’s at the back of his mind just like it’s at the back of mine.

That’s not the reason I’m writing this morning though. I’m writing because I missed an opportunity yesterday. I missed an opportunity to be ministered to by my Christian brothers and sisters. I’ll be honest here. I have been overwhelmed by all the possibilities of what might be wrong, some of them very serious, some of them requiring surgery. Between being overwhelmed, feeling like I have to pretend everything is all right, and having a natural reticence to talking about what’s going on because others are uncomfortable, it was hard for me to communicate exactly how much I was hurting. It didn’t help that yesterday was Mother’s Day which is supposed to be a wonderful holiday, but is not for me for many reasons. I didn’t feel like I could truly express my hurt because I didn’t want to spoil things for everyone else.

So, I didn’t use words like I should have used them yesterday which is why I’ve turned to writing them down. I didn’t know the words to use. There is an example in Scripture though of not being able to use words. Romans 8:26 says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” That comforts me. God heard my prayers and those of the ones who did pray for me even though I didn’t communicate well.

It was also hard, I think, for the people I did speak with to understand how I was feeling because my husband was at church. And that goes back to dealing with a chronic illness. Sometimes, he is okay, and sometimes, he isn’t. When he’s okay, it’s hard to impart that something might be serious at another point, and my feelings are just considered to be feelings of worry which, of course, God has told us not to do.

From Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

I acknowledge the reality of this Scripture. I do. I have prayed it a number of times in my life, and God’s peace has been there. But, when I state my concerns and they are dismissed as worry, I feel discounted by my Christian brothers and sisters. My heart hurt badly when one of them stated this exact thing yesterday and walked away from me. I quit talking then. There wasn’t a point anymore. I left church with my family, and they celebrated me well. We went to lunch, and then I went to spend the gift card they had bought me. It was a good afternoon, and God comforted my hurting heart. And isn’t that the point when we’re hurting? God is always with us, and He comforts our hurting hearts. I pray, if you are hurting, that He comforts your heart as well.

 

God’s blessings on all of you today!