THE THING ABOUT FAITH

This is morning, I listened to our guest pastor discuss Hebrews 11. This is that nice chapter that starts out with: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” That’s a beautifully worded verse, isn’t it? It’s so encouraging! Then there’s the second verse: “This is what the ancients were commended for.” And a list of who “the ancients” were follows in a really poetic fashion, with the mention of each ancient beginning with “By faith….” And a sense of righteous reverence rises up in me. I think, ‘Wow! These ancients were amazing. Their faith was so strong.’

It really is an impressive list of faith. Even sprinkled by moments of mistakes and doubts, these folks finished as God intended for them to. It’s a good reminder that we will very likely make mistakes, but by our maturing faith we will be found righteous as long as we trust that God is truly a good God.

I also listened to what each of the ancients endured and came out on the other side of, even closer to God. They and all the other men and women we read about in the Bible went through some heavy, burdensome things. It makes you look back at beginning of the chapter and reconsider what is really meant by “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” We’re not talking about the hope a child has that they’re going to get a pony for Christmas, or that God’s going to bless you with winning lottery numbers so you can pay off all your debt. These people did the hard things! They did things that exemplify what God means when he says his thoughts are higher than our thoughts, his ways are higher than our ways and that he’s about to do a new thing. 

08ef2004deac5eb4c1a19b7ceacc0107The Red Sea, sacrificing a son who was inconceivably conceived, a single man telling a pharaoh (himself considered a god) that his God said to let his people go, packing up a huge household, including livestock, and going “over there” because God said to, taking 120 years to build and ark while being mocked by an entire community. No one could fault any of them for saying to God, “You’re kidding, right?” Because we don’t think that way, but God does.

God has never asked me to do the unimaginable or anything as reality-defying as the men and women of the Bible, but in my small world I have had occasions to trust him more than has been comfortable. And it was while I was pondering this fact that our guest preacher moved on to Hebrews 12 which begins, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses….” As I said, I’ve never had to ask God to part the Red Sea for me and thousands of others while an army is at our heels. But I have been overwhelmed by a season of “stuff” that required more money, more energy, or more strength than I had, and stood at the edge of my next step wondering how it was going to be okay, when it was going to be okay, knowing I really had no reasonable option but to go “by faith.”

I listened to this sermon from a pew at the back of the church. I looked out at the smattering of heads covered by gray hair or no hair among the younger looking heads. And I realized that I was surrounded by my own, personal cloud of witnesses. I attend a Methodist church and you can’t accuse them of being Pentecostal in any modern sense, but I know our older members have a deeply rooted, anchored faith that came from doing hard things “by faith.” They’ve been married to the same person longer than I’ve been alive. They’ve buried husbands, wives and children long before they wanted to. They’ve done without and gotten through it anyway. They’ve gotten through things I hope to never have to go through, and things I’ll likely still go through because I’m married, have children, work and, quite simply, because I’m alive.

These beautiful people aren’t wiser simply because they’re older. They are wiser because they’ve learned hard lessons by faith. They’ve got battle scars that others can’t see. Their armor is certainly worse for wear. They’ve fought battles on their knees. They may walk slower than they did when they were younger, but I know they walk together; and in them is still the heart of a child who knows they are loved by their Father.

I have come to love them in a way I never thought I could love anyone, and I thank God for them. This is my cloud of witnesses. What have they witnessed? God’s faithfulness, provision, strength, love to name a few things. I can read about the ancients, but I didn’t know them the way I know these people. But I know I can trust in the God of Shirley, the God of Floyd, the God of Kevin, the God of Sue, the God of Cherry, the God of Gigi, the God of Phil. And I hope that my children and grandchildren can someday find hope and confidence in the God of LaRonda – because he is – and always will be – a good God who loves them.

OK…FALSE ALARM!

OK. You know what? I think I just needed a nap, a hug, and some good friends!

norman rockwellOnce again, God gave me a crash course in assurance. Most of my lessons are like this because I think God has this tiny window of opportunity before I change my mind. Seriously, I’m like that kid – you know the one – who gets to the edge of the diving board and is too scared to jump but they can’t really go back to the stairs either so they just stand there hoping the world will open up and swallow them whole but it doesn’t so they go ahead and jump with the conviction that they’re about to drown to death but when they don’t die they figure death would have been better than being embarrassed. Yeah, I’m like that kid.

Shortly after I called the wahh-mbulance the other day, I opened an email from Morgan Harper Nichols. Unlike most of the subscriptions I get emails from, she’s gone to the trouble of personalizing her emails with the recipient’s first name. And that means I saw this as the subject line before I even opened the email: You’re not alone LaRonda.

I know. Right?

Of course, as nice as it was, all I could think was, ‘Maybe you’re not alone, but I’m pretty sure I am.’

I was wrong. So very wrong. Because I’m lazy, I’ve cut  and pasted the rest of Morgan’s message:

When you find yourself in a new place, and you are trying find your footing, may you never feel that you have to navigate it alone. Consider it a blessing that there are other people in this world that you can learn from, even if you are not able to speak to them directly.

You may not be able to be as open to your boss or a colleague as you would like to, or you may not be able to seek wise counsel from family members like you wish you could, but that does not mean you have reached the limit on who you can look to or reach out to.

And it’s okay if “reaching out” takes you out of comfort zone. That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. The moment you take the step to ask a question or express a need that you have is a bold rejection of the lie that you were meant to do this alone. It does not make you needy. It does not make you weak.

So don’t be so hard on yourself. If you feel that reaching out makes you vulnerable, it does…and it has also made you strong. You were never meant to be in this alone. And the more you begin taking steps to live out this truth, the more you will begin to see just how much it makes a difference in you.

May this be the week you begin to practice stepping out of your comfort zone just a little bit more. May you begin to open your heart to possibility that vulnerability takes courage and the willingness to accept that you have no idea what is going to happen. Be honest about what you are thinking and feeling this week. Be honest with yourself. Be mindful of the moments where you feel tempted to shut down or withdraw or give up. And it’s okay to have these moments and being able to acknowledge them is a huge step in working through them.

Sincerely,
Morgan Harper Nichols

Yesterday, I went to church and was surrounded by amazing people who had not only had their faith tested and strengthened, but are in the midst of a trial right now. It’s foolishness to think your problems are more insurmountable than someone else’s. I don’t think I’m struggling with how bad I think things are. I know there are painful things that I can’t imagine having to go through, and my heart breaks for anyone carrying such a load.

Lately I’ve thought a lot about painful things that can never change until we’re Home. Two people in our church family have lost their spouse this year. Another woman had her leg amputated. A young woman I once worked with lost her five-month old boy to SIDS. People don’t return to life. A limb isn’t going to grow back. I can eventually pay off debt or purchase another car. I can even arrange things to compensate for the changes in me since my open-heart surgery. And I’ll eventually learn how to work with one good arm and one permanently dislocated arm. It won’t always be easy, but it can be done.

However, some things do not change. There are some things that I can’t fix, and that makes me feel powerless and vulnerable. (That was harder to say than you might think.)

I’ve spent most of my life garnering as much control as I could because I was the only person I could count on to not hurt me. (And, honestly, I’ve probably been crueler to myself than anyone else has ever been.)

So right now, I need help to carry things, to cook, to do my job. I have to ask for help when I need it. Here’s what can happen:

  • Someone will gladly help me.
  • Someone will help me but not exactly the way I would have done it – which, of course, is the right way.
  • Someone will help me and then hold it over me when they need to leverage it for guilt.
  • Someone will say ‘No.’

That gives me a 50% chance be being hurt. And a 100% chance that I won’t ask for help until I’m desperate.

Fortunately, God has put people in my life who are as persistent as they are kind. Fortunately, God has infinite patience with me as he teaches me that it’s okay to ask for and accept help. And that I can be secure that if I reach out my hand, there will be someone there to hold it.

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Sometimes, I just have to be brave enough to jump and trust that there are lifeguards who won’t let me drown. Yeah…pretty sure.

I THINK I’M DONE

When I started this blog a little over a year ago I felt pretty strong, pretty confident, and I had fantasies of writing something that would, in some small way, touch someone. My greater goal was to help people who felt unlovable to realize that they were lovable and loved by a God who treasures them, quirks and all. The only way I felt that was possible was from the other side of my own doubts. And to be honest, I lasted longer than I thought I would.

I don’t think I can do that right now. I have no doubt that one day I’ll start writing again, but it’ll definitely take more than I’ve got right now.

A few weeks ago, I posted Are We There Yet? I think that’s a fair enough question.

Most of the trouble is that I’ve always tried to be a good girl and never ask for much. I tried o be a good student, a good employee, a good Christian. I learned at a very young age that I was not much more than an option.

I don’t recall what I did wrong, but my mother told me she’d made a call to the orphanage. The only thing I understood about the orphanage (which we actually had in our city) was that it was where children went when they didn’t have parents. She told me someone would be by later to get me. They’d put me in a dark room and feed me when they felt like it.

I waited quietly until it was dark enough to know grown-ups weren’t at work anymore, which also meant someone hadn’t come to take me to the orphanage. I asked my mother if they were still coming to get me. She simply said, “They must have forgotten about you. They’ll probably come tomorrow.”

i never went to the orphanage. I continue to live with my mother, which was probably worse than the alternative.

I’ve spent most of my life convinced that I was unlovable and insignificant enough to be easily forgotten. At best, I was tolerated. But that tolerance was very conditional, and I was constantly reminded with, “If you don’t like it, you can leave.”

I didn’t like it, but I had no where to go so I couldn’t leave. And I didn’t leave until the day before my 21st birthday.

My point is this: When you grow up without grace  or mercy, there’s no way you can recognize it when you see it. Even if you could, you can not accept it when you’ve believed that you’re something to be tolerated.

I thought I had made progress, that I had more confidence in God’s word. But I know now that I haven’t. I was starting to come to terms with the limitations after my open-heart surgery. I kept looking for the good after I wrecked the car in January. I trusted God to provide when we had to replace a new furnace in February. I even tried to remain optimistic when I wrecked my shoulder at the end of March. And somehow, we’ll find a way to pay the taxes we owe to the state.

But if God knows me so well, doesn’t he know that I am not that strong? My body had already betrayed me enough, but to have to live the rest of my life with the pain and limitations of a permanently dislocated shoulder? How does that glorify God? To be so perpetually broke that the kindness of really generous friends and my husband’s family barely scratches the surface of our debt because more debt is piled on than we can dig out…how does that glorify God?

So I’m angry and confused. I feel foolish for trusting God because there are plenty of people who are looking at me and wondering why they should trust him if this is what a Christian life looks like.

So here’s the deal: I can not write anything encouraging or motivational right now. This post is concrete evidence of that. So I shall keep all of my thoughts inside my pretty little head until I can be nice again. Besides…if I don’t like it, i can always leave, right?

MAYBE HE’S JUST MOVING THE PIECES

I like quotes and images that can make a philosophy or personal paradigm incredibly succinct. This photo is one such image. Melissa Groo captured this amazing photo. I don’t know her, but if you do please let her know how profoundly this single photo has changed me.

ideous mother duck

When I saw it on Facebook, there was a comment attached: look closely.

This was important because all I saw was a hideous…something. I couldn’t imagine what this ugly thing was. It was something you would expect to see on the front of The National Inquirer, and I suspected it was photo-shopped. But I continued to look closely to see what the “punchline”was. I didn’t get it!

It wasn’t until I read through the comments that I realized it was a mother keeping her babies safely under her wings.

How adorable is that?! I thought about the amazing love, security and care that comes so instinctively to an animal. It was so touching. Then one reader made a connection to Psalm 91, so I checked it out. It begins:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

he will
Art.com “He Will” Framed Art Print by Bob Henley

 

I had one of those rare moments when my head and my heart were on the same page. This really doesn’t happen very often. I’ve spent most of my life feeling a great divide between what my head knows and what my heart feels – especially when it came to my perception of myself. And all too often, my feelings are very good at convincing my head that it was so very, very mistaken.

 

But not that day.

I finished reading Psalm 91:

Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

And I heard a still, small voice speak to the very core of my spirit: That’s how I love you. 

I have been thinking about this photo for a solid week now. I’ve also been thinking about the way I label the experiences I have in life – you know, this is good, this is bad. And my thoughts kept going back to this photo. I had to reconcile God’s love for me vs. my nearly constant anxiety over how things would work out (aka What am I going to do?!) I knew that my anxiety didn’t leave room for faith in my heavenly Father, but I just didn’t “get” it.

hemaytellyou know because he has a better yesI had been deciding what was “good” and what was “bad” according to my idea of what was good or bad. (I’ll be honest. My track record for good decisions isn’t very good.)

I was like the friends of of the man who’d won a great deal of money. Everyone told him how fortunate he was.

With that money, he bought one of the fastest sports cars available. As he was navigating this sweet ride around a mountain, he miscalculated a turn and crashed his car and suffered more than a few broken bones. His friends went to see him, took one look at the body cast and told him how unfortunate it was that he’d wrecked his car and now had a long hospital stay ahead of him.

Not long after he was hospitalized, his friends called to share the news that there had been a horrible tornado go through his hometown. If he’d been at home when it happened, he most certainly would have been among those who died. How fortunate for him that he’d been in the hospital at the time.

justmovingthepiecesWhat could happen if I trusted that my Father loves me, protects me and has a good plan for my life? What could happen if I gave up assigning labels to everything that happens based on whether its pleasant or unpleasant for me? What could happen if I stopped trying to figure out what God’s doing in my life and simply relax while he moves the pieces round – with his vision, his omniscience, his resources, his infinite timeline?

All too often, those moments in which I’ve thrown up my hands and cried, “I give up!” I’ve heard that same still, small voice respond, “It’s about time.” It’s not condemning or condescending or irritated. It’s gracious and patient. And so very loving.

God’s got me covered, but I’m sure it would be easier for both of us if I would just stop squirming.